Saturday, December 30, 2006

North Korea, Thanksgiving and Seoul much more!

Annyeong Haseyo!

It has been a while since I last wrote, I've been very busy this last
month with work and socialising with friends and workmates (my center
is now dubbed "the gayest Berlitz centre in the world" due to the high
number of gay people working there (now and in the past). However, the
students and local Korean staff have no idea, and it is kept secret
since Koreans can be quite prejudiced conservative people. Though with
some of the shenanigans my colleagues get up to, I'm surprised no one
suspects anything... )

Some examples of "English" names my students have made for themselves include:
-Daisy (for a guy)
-June (also for a guy)
-Ring Ding (could you take a Chinese prosecutor with a name like that
-Tom Cruise
-Yeerik (what are we - Norwegen?)
-Hans (or German, Ja?)

I've also experienced my first Thanksgiving dinner at a friends house,
complete with 30 pound turkey (ordered from the US army base), ham,
sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and, since there were Koreans invited,
kimbap (which is Korean sushi) and soju (korean vodka). A bit of east
meets west, and probably the strangest and most energetic Thanksgiving
to date (according to my American friends). What's Thanksgiving about,
I'm not quite sure, something about thanking the American Natives for
saving the founders of the modern US from starvation, and turkeys
being a native bird in the US. Whatever it means, as long as there is
good plentiful food, I am happy.

Christmas day was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, no clouds in
the sky, and it was quite warm. Which was exactly what I didn't want!
I wanted miserable, cloudly, cold winter with lots of lots of snow!!
This is my third Christmas on the other side of the world where it is
cold (one in England, the other in Germany), and still no White
Christmas, no snow! Even the snow from the week before had completely
melted away!

Anyway, Christmas was a spread out smaller affair, starting with a
Christmas Eve buffet lunch at the Grand Hyatt hotel (it was expensive,
but hey its 1) Christmas, and 2) The Hyatt!), followed by Christmas
day spent with a smaller turkey, ham and DVDs with friends, ending
with a night in with - that's right - Sammy, over a bottle of wine at
my house. Christmas, sadly enough, is not a grandious affair in Korea.
Koreans generally spend Christmas by going to church (if they are
Christian), eating Christmas cake, and - if you are in a couple -
spending time with your loved one..


I thought it was about time to go visit a place I've always been
curious to see after I first heard about it. This is the DMZ
(DeMilitarized Zone), which is the front line between North and South
Korea, who are technically still at war. In fact, small fights and
deaths occur frequently, to the point that no one really reads or
hears about it except through Koreans who have undergone compulsory
2year military service. Anyway, the interesting thing about this
place is that even though it is a DMZ, an 4km wide area where no
weapons are allowed, it is probably the most fortified area in perhaps
the world, but so cleverly concealed you can't tell. Also, because no
one really sets foot in the place (except ironically, the military),
it has also become a beautiful nature preserve, where rare and exotic
animals and plants florish without human intervention.

Anyway, tourists are not allowed to visit the DMZ except in one place,
which is called JSA (Joint Security Area). This area is where the DMZ
shrinks to a point where the border is, allowing both North and South
Korea to build a town (called Pammujemun) together with the UN, that
both countries protect and control. This town is used for diplomatic
and political meetings. The border goes right through the center of
the town. It was also the scene of a brutal axe murder of a South
Korean officer by a gang of North Korean soldiers which led to the
most expensive tree cutting operation in the world (more on that

To visit the place, you must be a foreigner, and you can only go as a
tour group. So, one cold early morning, I went to the US army base
with some friends to join the tours they conduct of the area.

The tour started with a briefing on the history of DMZ, JSA, and the
stories that have come from it. The Axe Murder Incident was due to
the layout of the town, which featured several guard posts belonging
to either North or South Korea. The location of these guard posts were
scattered around in each other's country (North has more guard posts
in South Korea territory than vice versa). The view from from one such
isolated South Korean guard post in North Korean soil to another North
Korean guard post was obsured by a huge oak tree. Thus it was
necessary to lop the branches off so SK guardpost can see the NK
guardpost. (the NK guardpost had no problems seeing the SK one).

So one day, a SK captain, 1 SK soldier and an SK tree surgeon went up
to the tree to perform the tree pruning. All of a sudden, about 20NK
soldiers ran up to them in a planned ambushed and hacked them to
pieces with their axes. It is unclear why they decided to do this, but
the result was the closest NK and SK have been to the brink of war
since the ceasefire. The next day, huge battalions of soldiers, tanks
and helicopters converged onto the JSA, to observe the cutting down of
the huge oak tree and as a display of force - the tension must have
been incredible for the poor tree cutter. And it is because of this
incident that NK and SK soldiers are not allowed to cross the border

Anyway, we were driven from the US Army base to the JSA. We were
warned we were not allowed to take photos of certain places for
military reasons, and that we had to have our passports checked to
make sure we were foreigners and not spies or South Koreans.

One interesting thing I noted was the wire fences along the border
that contained white stones in the fencing. This is because it is a
cheap and easy way to tell if there is a breach or interference in the
border fencing, since the stones will drop out it the fence is
tampered with. (Though I didn't dare point out that the intruder could
just simply replace the stones, rendering their idea useless).

We also passed the Rapid Response Unit Camp which is about 1km away
from JSA. Apparently these highly trained soldiers, in event of
emergency, could be dressed, equipped in full battle gear, and reach
JSA in a jeep in 38 seconds!! Very impressive!

The first thing you notice upon entering the JSA is the stance adopted
by both NK and SK soldiers. The NK soldiers were brown uniforms and
stand to attention as normal. The SK soldiers however take an
aggressive stance. Wearing blue uniforms, helmets, and big dark
sunglasses to appear aggressive, the SK soldiers stand legs spread
like an A frame, and the arms sticking out along them. It looks like
they are about to do star jumps. Also, they don't stand directly
exposed to the North Korea side, but half exposed, the other half
hidden behind a building or obstacle. This is to prevent snipers from
trying to shoot them.

You can also see the border, which is a thick line of concrete running
across the town. Since the Axe Murder Incident, NK and SK soldiers
cannot cross this border (in the past they were allowed to. Our guide
joked that a stray dog running back and forth across this line is a
dog that is continually defecting.) However, there is a UN building
that tourists are allowed to go in, which is built with half of it in
NK and the other in SK. Meaning effectively you can cross the border
into North Korea here.

It's sad, but I was a little excited to have the chance to step into
the other side of the room and technically enter North Korea. It
didn't really feel any different. I was told sometimes the NK
soldiers would come down and look through the windows at us. They
would also make throat cutting actions to any SK soldiers inside,
which the SK soldiers consider hilarious, if they were allowed to
smile or talk that is.

We were also shown the two opposing towns across from each other near
the border. Freedom Village (SK), and Propaganda Village (NK), named
because of the way they would play propaganda on loud speakers
encouraging SK people to defect to NK. The two villages also have huge
flag masts proudly flying their nations flag. NK naturally had to have
one almost twice the size of SK's one. At 170m high and supporting a
30m large flag, the NK flag is the biggest flag in the world!

We also had a look at one of the many tunnels that NK had tried to dig
through to SK, so in an event of war, NK could invade SK straight to
Seoul through them. These tunnels were found by accident (NK denying
that it's a tunnel, claiming its a coal mine instead - not a smart
move considering there is no coal within), and it is speculated that
there is one more tunnel that already reaches Seoul, but has not been
found yet, and no proof to accuse NK of it.

At the conclusion of the trip, we went to an observatory overlooking
the pristine conditions of the DMZ. Here we were told no photographs
due to snipers picking us out. We were also told we could see a huge
golden statue of the NK president from here, though visibility due to
mist was poor.

I also heard stories from the trip (and from my students -most who
have done the compulsory military service) of many NK people defecting
in the night. Even NK soldiers would defect, crossing with all their
weapons etc. One student recounted a scary moment, where, late at
night, he and his officer were filling in paperwork in their guard
post when they heard a voice behind them saying "I want to defect to
SK". They turned around to see a NK soldier with a rifle. If the NK
soldier was there for anything else than defecting, my student would
not be here today!

As the festive season ends, it is worth nothing that Koreans are the
biggest alcoholics in the world, where it is customary for them to get
completely sloshed on a night out, mixing all kinds of alcohol in
great abundance at at least three different places. Generally this is
how Koreans build friendships and consolidate busines relationships,
because they believe being drunk helps people become more intimate
with each other. Which kinda makes sense considering that most Koreans
are shy and conservative people on the outside.

Anyway, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!~ ^^

Monday, December 11, 2006

Seouly Moley!



"A wife like a fox is better than a wife like a bear". Huh?

"The smell of 'jun-uh' (type of fish) makes even the daughter-in-law
come back home". What the?!

The love of son-in-law is mother-in-law." Sounds disturbing to me...


Well, winter has finally arrived in the Korean Peninsula (actually,
more like assaulted since it happened all of a sudden). It's bitterly
cold, and we're not even in the coldest months! If North Korea nukes
us at least we'd be warm (though we won't be around long enough to
appreciate it). I find it hard to comprehend how with the temperature
and weather extremes from hot and humid to dry and freezing, Korean
people still manage look so youthful and vibrant, and have such good
skin. There must be a secret they're are hiding from me and the

Not much has been happening of late, except that i'm working pretty
much every day now (although by choice - and what a dumb choice that
was). I'm also doing a language exchange with a Korean girl I call
Caroline, who for helping her with her English, I get to practise and
learn Korean in return. With this and learning Korean through the
computer, I've learnt quite a lot so far (ku goshi che yonpilul
anissoyo - that is not my pencil!)

I have also done some sightseeing, and have plans to visit North
Korean territory next week when I head off to visit the DMZ
(Demilitarised Zone), which is the most heavily fortified front line
in the world between two countries at war (and yet also happens to be
a tourist attraction - go figure).

Anyway, one place I visited was Inwangsan mountain, which is just to
the north of the city center. Yep, it's surprising, but you can
actually go up to wilderness even in the middle of the city!
Inwangsan mountain is famous for this shamanistic shrines and buddhist
temples, where buddhisim and shamanism is still practised today. If
you're lucky you would see worshippers performing drumming and singing
ceremonies complete with traditional garments, food offerings and
dancing - rituals that have not changed from when it was first
created. Inwangsan also offers some lovely hiking trails where you can
see a Salvador Dali-esque landscape of naturally sculpted rocks - some
with uncanny resemblences to human forms - and views of the city and
ancient original city walls below amongst the mountain foliage. Oh,
and this is probably the only tourist sight in the world that involves
entering via walking through a massive construction site where you
have to dodge huge cranes and bulldozers operating around you and
workers playing with water hoses.

Seosomum prison is a disturbing place. It was a concentration camp
used by the Japanese to torture and murder Koreans fighting for their
independance during the Japanese occupation. The Koreans are very
bitter against the Japanese for this, and is evident in the depiction
of them in tacky dioramas complete with awkward mechanical puppets,
badly recorded sound effects and flashing lights which are great for
inducing seizures. There's even a torture room where you can witness
first hand what they went through. In all, I was quite deeply moved
(and 'tortured' - ha ha!) by what I learnt in the place.

Finally, the War museum, which is absolutely marvellous and definitely
a must see if you are into seeing big tanks, war planes, missiles,
missile launchers and submarines. The grounds of the war museum looks
like some giant kid had left out all their army toys scattered on the
grass and walked off!

But what puts the war museum on top of my list of things to see in
Korea is the military perfomances they put on every Friday afternoon.
Here you can witness the military rifle twirling (performed by hot
girls in short skirts), sword and spear fighting (performed by not so
hot guys in traditional war uniforms), traditional and modern day
drumming, and all other kinds of entertainment - and it's all free!


Yay!~ ^^ The Koreans - ever creative - have come up with a way to
celebrate the fact that the 11th of November (i.e 11/11) looks like
peperon, a type of cylindrical wafer biscuit stick with one end dipped
in chocolates and nuts. So on this joyous day, friends and family go
around giving each other this delectable type of candy!

Just when I thought Koreans couldn't be any more inventive, I learn
about their own "scary" creatures that go bump in the night.

My favorite has to be the hwanjangshil gwinsin, or toilet ghost. This
ghost is actually a red hand that comes out of the traditional
hole-in-the-ground toilets when one reaches for the toilet paper, and
asks you "do you want red toilet paper, or blue toilet paper." If you
answer, you die instantly! Apparently you could get away with saying
"I don't use toilet paper, I use a bidet"!

Also running rampant in the ghostly realm are the Chenyeo gwinsin, or
virgin ghost. This is usually the spirit of a girl who died before
getting married, and is not happy about it. Described with having long
white hair, a pale white face, and a drop of blood on one side of
mouth. Her counterpart is the Mongal gwinsin, or male bachelor ghost.
This ghost has no face. Blamed for bad circumstances and events
occuring after their deaths, the only way to
be rid of them is to perform a ghost wedding ceremony so that they can
finally get married and find peace (Find peace?! And I thought that
getting married was the cause of more discontent! )

Finally, the Gumiho, which is a fox with nine tails that can
transform into a beautiful girl. This "foxy lady" (pardon the pun)
then lures young men in the mountains to bed where she then eats their
livers. Everytime she eats a liver she becomes closer to her goal of
eventually becoming human!


There is not much else that compares to the thrills and hazards of
catching a Korean bus. Often seen careening down the street at
breakneck speed - yet somehow managing to fly through narrow gaps of
traffic that had opened for a split second, and avoid accidents,
scratches, dents or pulverised vehicles (or people) - buses develop
your sense of balance: They are also a good workout for your muscles
as you brace yourself lest your arm joints be wrenched off at the
sudden change of direction from forwards to sideways.
Yet it seems that no one seems to mind, even old people take it in
their stride (forced that is, since they are litterally flung to the
back of the bus after having just entered it).
However, despite these shortcomings, buses are very reliable,
frequent, and although fearing impending disaster whenever you enter
these metal boxes of doom, you somehow arrive safely at your
destination (albeit with bruises and dislocated limbs, that is).


Ajummas are a type of old Korean woman, often the victim of
stereotyping. They are usually stereotyped as old, ill manned, short
unattractive married women, over the age of 30, with badly permed hair
and bad dress sense, and that their function in life is only to serve
their husband and family. They are usually considered rude and
uncaring of the world around them. Ajummas are generally seen running
and serving at "ma/pa shops" (small grocery shops), or street food
stalls. These street food stalls can range from a small setup serving
basic street fare, to the "portable restaurant" street stall complete
with several plastic tables and chairs all contained in a clear
plastic tent to keep out the elements which takes up the whole

Friday, November 10, 2006

Seoul'd on Seoul!


Yes I'm still here, alive and well, (especially with the North Korea
threat - thanks for your emails expressing concern),

Well Autumn is upon us here in Seoul and the weather is noticeably and
thankfully cooler now. The skies are also mainly clear and sunny. If
any of you plan to visit Seoul, now is the best time to do so (or next

Things haven't changed too much since I last wrote. Chusok (Korean
Thanksgiving) came and went. It is a time of year where people go back
to their home towns and visit their ancestors graves, spend time with
family (like Thanksgiving, but with rice cakes instead of turkey), and
put up with grueling long hours in heavy traffic (a 2hr trip could
take 8hrs during Chusok), since everyone tries to leave and come back
to Seoul in the 4 day holiday. Imagine most of 10.3 million people
(half the population of Australia) leaving the city at the same time!
Imagine also a city like New York or London with hardly any people,
and you can imagine what Seoul was like during this time!

I had plans to visit friends in the port town of Busan, but because of
the traffic and all buses/trains were booked, I had to settle for
watching DVDs (Korean and English) on my computer, drinking with
friends, and relaxing at my cosy apartment.

Work is same old same old, though the split shift (working morning and
evenings only) is draining me a bit. I usually sleep in the middle of
the day and the middle of the night for 2-5hours, which makes life
feel a little more surreal due to sleep deprivation.

People are a little concerned about the nuclear test. When there were
missiles launched from North Korea a month or so ago, people didn't
care, but this nuclear thing has changed things. Previously, the
current South Korean government have been looking in trying to reunify
Korea and send them much aid and assistance as a humanitarian and
diplomatic approach. Now it will be interesting to see what
eventuates. People in Seoul are complaining that they sent aid and
building materials, which they probably used to build the bomb instead
of helping the starving North Korean masses. There are even some
protests about the failure of the current government to prevent the
tests from happening.

Of course too, are the speculations about the nuclear tests being a
fake, or at the most, a fizzer.

Apart from that though, life goes on, no mass hysteria or people
evacuating.. but it's early times yet. I'll keep everyone posted on
any developments..

I've been told I look like this actor called Shin-Ha Kyun (see shinakyun.jpg)

What do you think? Do you think it resembles me? Every Korean I meet
thinks so... ^-^

Featuring a cute Korean actress called Nam Sang Mi drinking my (and
Korea's) favorite alcoholic beverage. She's adorable!!~ ^ ^

Many Korean ads tend to be cute or silly, almost childlike with cutish jingles.

And here is something bizzare yet a hilarious example of Korean quirky humour:

Koreans use different emoticons to express their mood when writing
emails/text messages. The emoticons are a mix of western and korean
characters (so I hope you can see them). Here are a few of them:

^-^ = happy (^ represents an eye arching upwards when an Asian smiles.)
(^?^)/ = Yay! (note how it actually takes longer to write it than
the word yay!
?? = sad
?? = very sad
^-^* = nervous (the * is sweat down the face)
^-* or ^-~ = wink
@.@ = wow surprising

Also, a ~ following a word represents a longer positive sounding tone.
example: great~!

I don't think swimming is a cultural thing in Korea, because no one
seems to be able to do so. Hence;

-Swimming pools are not very deep! Even I can stand in it! There seems
to be no such thing as a shallow or deep end.

-There is something called a pool break which occurs every 2 hours. It
means that people must all leave the pool for 20 minutes so they can
rest, for if they wear themselves out having fun in the pool, someone
"could drown".

-Head caps must be worn. No exceptions! This saves them having to
clean hair from the pool. They never counted on one of my friends, who
is quite hairy all over his body. Maybe he should wear a wetsuit?

OK, another cultural difference. Whereas we westerners see a "man on
the moon", what do Koreans see? That's right, a rabbit! But not just
any rabbit though, nope, it is a rabbit making rice cakes of all

These Koreans have quite a vivid imagination sometimes. Bears eating
garlic turning into people, rabbits cooking rice cakes on the moon,

Despite the fact that wives traditionally stay at home and look after
the kids and serve the husband, while husbands work and do as they
please, it turns out that wives are not as helpless or powerless as it
seems. Wives usually are the ones who control their husbands bank
account - in fact some of my married male students have no idea how
much money they actually have in the bank! "I don't know how to pay
bills" says one. "My wife handles all that. All I see of my money is
the pocket money she gives me." Pocket money!?! For a 45 year old?

(on a completely unrelated note, I had one of my female students help
me pay my phone and gas bill, because I didn't know how to (come on it
was in Korean!) I jokingly told her she'd make a good wife. Probably
wasn't the best thing to say.. ) ^-~

Anyway, stay tuned for more developments!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Straight from the Seoul

Annyeong Haseyo!

Sorry for not writing for a while, it's been a month since I last
wrote, and quite alot has happened since!

For the apartment, I've bought secondhand furniture from foreigners
leaving here, including a computer, printer, desk, queen size bed,
rice cooker, microwave, toaster oven, and a washer/dryer combination.
The great thing about this is that I can sell it when I leave, so I
can get some of my money back.

I've also set up broadband cable internet at home, which means I can
now download music and movies for entertainment during the cold dark
winter months ahead.

Work has had it's ups and downs. There wasn't many classes running
during the summer because everyone was on vacation, which meant I
wasn't getting much money (I get paid per class). At one point I had
just about had enough and had started looking for work elsewhere.
Unfortunetly, my work visa will only allow me to work for a public
school (meaning little undisciplined kids), and due to the
conservative (and should I say, racist) nature of older generation
Koreans, prefer not to have an Asian looking foreign English teacher
(or as they call us, Gyopos), opting for a less qualified white
foreigner to teach english!

So, I've had to just resign myself to the fact that Institutions like
Berlitz are all I can really find work in (as they are owned by
International corporations who aren't allowed to discriminate).

In any case, the last month has picked up in classes as more people
are coming back from vacation. I've also managed to find some private
students outside of Berlitz which supplements my income here. So as I
always say, "everything works out in the end!"

However, the upshot of all this is that I haven't really saved any
money since starting work 3 months ago (spent on settling in and
partying), and the money earned is less than expected. So my 1+ year
trip through Asia and beyond will have to be delayed, as I might
choose to work for 2 years here instead of 1.

And as for my love life? Well, jump to the end of the email.


-Be asked at a job Interview "Do you (binge) drink (alcohol)?", and be
hired if it is the case. This is because (binge) drinking with clients
is a standard relationship building activity, and to not participate
could be considered impolite.
-Ask how a Korean person is doing by asking "Did you eat?" in Korean
("shiksa hashossoyo?". This is not taken literally.
-Pose in photos in front of Police booze buses.
-Jokingly invite a policeman to engage in group activities of an adult
nature, after coming to quiet us from our drunken revelry. He just
shook his head, said "no no no, not my business", and made an excuse
to leave.
-Be unfaithful, but it's not OK to get caught (especially if you're a
girl). Infidelity seems prolific in this country, it is estimated that
2/3 of married men cheat with mistresses and prostitutes! Korean men
also don't like using protection which makes things even worse!
-Sing badly at a noraebang (Karaoke room).
-Not hold hands with a girlfriend/boyfriend until 3 months after the
first date; nor kiss until the 6th month (Thankfully none of the girls
I've dated here are like that!).


Gee with all these puns I guess you'ld have no trouble working out
where exactly in the world I am...

Koreans seem to have double standards about waste. For example, they
are pedantic about recycling, they even have special bags dedicated to
real waste only (like food scraps etc) - the rest they expect you to
store in seperate bags depending on the material (paper, plastic,
etc). In fact I once caught my landlord sorting out my rubbish the
first time I put it out for collection because I did not recycle

On the other hand, when it comes to food, they would leave vast
amounts of untouched uneaten food on the table (especially kim chi),
which pretty much gets thrown straight into the rubbish bin! You would
think that, especially with the prevalent starvation of the people of
North Korea just a few miles away, that South Koreans would be a
little more aware of how lucky they are and how precious is the
abundant food they have available at every meal.


Yet again North Korea announces how their missiles will destroy Seoul
and it's allies (while at the same time quietly asking for donated
food, aid and building materials from Seoul). After the last missile
launches, Japan and the US are a little worried. This is why the US
army base in central Seoul is moving further south in Korea, because
Seoul is within reach of heavy artillery fire from the North. But is
Seoul scared? Not at the slightest, because they've heard it all
before! Some South Koreans don't even believe they have the capacity
to produce technologically advanced missiles. This apathetic
blase-faire feeling is evident in how South Korean trade and stock
investments have not changed even slightly after North Korea's

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

That's Seoul last week..

Annyeong Haseyo!


6:00am: Alarm goes off. James notes this morning's class is a "travel
class", meaning he has to go to the client's office instead of the
Berlitz Language Center. The good thing about this is that a travel
class never starts at 6:45am (morning shift is usually 6:45am to
11:15am). Meaning more sleep in time.

Another bonus of a travel class is that you get paid for the time to
get there (in 45 minute blocks, called travel units). You also get
paid for each 45 minute block spent in a class (teaching units).
Because my morning class is 1hr 30mins it means I get paid 2 teaching
units plus 1 travel unit to get there. Teaching units are worth more
than travel units.

7:25am: James gets up, gets dressed up in professional attire
(thankfully during summer we don't have to wear ties), downs a quick

7:30am: James takes oversized umbrella to protect from oversized rain
(I never knew it could rain so much in Summer!). Catch bus up the road
to downtown Seoul. Takes only 10-15 minutes (yay, the joys of living
so close to the center!)

7:45am: James gets his "usual" breakfast of a fried vegetable omelete
and ham toasted sandwich ($1) and free bottle of yakult from friendly
old lady from a street food stall. It's routine now, it involves me
getting off the bus, lady sees me, she nods, I nod, she quickly
prepares food, I take out money, she hands food over with another nod,
I hand money over with nod. I say Thankyou (in Korean), She mumbles
something back in Korean. I walk away.

8am: James walks a bit and arrives at the Tong Yang Finance building
for class. It is a private class (i.e not a group but an individual).
The student in question is a Senior Finance Manager called Hyung Tae
Park (he is number two guy in the company, below CEO). He is studying
at English Proficiency Level 4. (Level 1 is basic, Level 10 is native
speaker). This guy is cool.

James goes to his student's oversized office and the hot secretary
serves coffee (clearly being top management they get the pick of the
secretaries in the whole company). James and Hyung Tae spend the class
ignoring the lesson books (we are supposed to follow a Berlitz lesson
book and teach a certain way - more on that later) instead opting for
what is known as "free talk". Meaning talk about anything you feel
like. (Remember i'm teaching conversational English here). They talk
about all sorts of things, from Korean culture, to different ways to
get drunk, politics to religion, feminism and deep topics to the
latest (Korean) blockbuster movie, and of course their shared passion
is travel.

Usually James would correct mistakes he has made with tenses,
vocabulary and pronunciation, but overall he's at a higher level than
Berlitz have put him on (He should be 6, not 4 - clients are judged
and put on a level based on a quick interview with another teacher, so
many times they are not correct. The downside of this is that you
sometimes get a person on a high level 5 when in fact they really are
a low level 3.

Hey this level stuff sounds so "Dungeons and Dragons". They could
really make things snazzy and fun here by giving them titles and other
character attributes.

Eg; the character Hyung Tae Park is a Level 4 Senior Manager with
stats +7 fluency, +7 vocabulary +5 accuracy, and +4 grammar... Whoa my
nerdy side is coming out now...)

9:30am: James goes to the Berlitz Language Center for more classes.
James works two shifts, a morning 6:45am-11:15am shift, and an evening
4:15-9:00pm shift. This is just the time James is available to teach,
not that he has to teach nonstop in those hours. Any hours in the
middle of the day that Berlitz gives James work in is considered
overtime and gets paid more accordingly.

The reason for this split shift is because Berlitz teach adults,
usually big business clients, and they have to work in the middle of
the day. Therefore they are taught before they go to work, and after
they finish work.

10am: James says hi to fellow teachers, takes a quick nap in the staff
room, and most importantly take advantage of the free coffee,
broadband internet and airconditioning there! (ever wondered how I
could write such long emails?)

10:30: James teaches the Marketing Manager for Xerox called Hweung
Kuk. This guy is a level 5 (should be 4). He also chooses to ignore
the Berlitz teaching Method, instead bringing in his own boring
marketing financial reports and talking about them. It's very hard to
pay attention to something so boring. James generally sleeps with eyes
open as Hweung Kuk explains the FDR and the IDP and other acronyms and
percentages which baffle the mind on why anyone would choose a career
learning stuff like that. But hey that's just me.

However, today is different. Heung Kuk comes in class looking a little
worn out. Turns out he's a little worried about his position in the

In Korea, everyone works really hard, but because the country is so
small and there are so many people, it is very competitive and thus
hard to get promoted. Senior managers generally don't last long
because they get replaced by younger more hard working employees.
Thus, it's not unusual to see people in the 40s-50s worrying about
their financial stability and their jobs. (retirement age is 55, quite
young really).

Heung Kuk also explains his health is not good, with stomach problems
(possibly by drinking too much, binge drinking is a social norm in
Korea, especially with clients).

James spends the class providing counselling and solid advice to Heung
Kuk, who writes down my suggestions on his report on how to improve
his health and prove his value to the company. I tell you, this job
calls for more than teaching sometimes..

12:00: James has lunch at one of the many Korean restaurants around
the Center. Meals at Korean restaurants are cheap, filling, and comes
with free unlimited water and kim chi. You never leave unsatisfied.

12:30: James go home to potter around the house, catch up on some
sleep, or maybe hang out with friends.

However, today James plays with his TV that has no antenna, and
somehow manages to pick up the AFN channel, that's Air Force Network
for the American army stationed in Korea. It is full of propaganda and
junk programs and messages/advertisements that make American soldiers
seem like Idiots. Things like "Cut down on smoking by using nicotine
replacement products" or "More people have died in motorcycle
accidents than the war in Afganistan. So please, wear a helmet!" and
"Help the Post Office - place stamps on the top right corner of the
envelope." What the!?

James also takes some abandoned furniture (drawers) left on the street
by other Koreans. Koreans are good at throwing things out, and they do
it quite often. It's not rare to find decent TV sets, mattresses and
large furniture dumped in front of the house. They would then get
picked up by a special truck that comes on a certain day of the week,
and they get sent to government second hand stores to be sold cheaply.
However, other residents are also welcome to just take it. This is
part of the Korean way of life, sharing everything they have, even
food! Korean generosity is an admirable trait.

5:30pm. James goes back to work.

6:00pm James gives drug education to a Level 3 student, after
listening to his tale of woe in Amsterdam.

7:30pm: James teaches a Level 1 group. Groups are named after cities,
in this case the class in question is (as fate would have it)
Melbourne! James uses the "Berlitz Method" which is a teaching style
the company prefers teachers to use. The Berlitz Method is simply a
process known as the PPP cycle (Presentation - Practice -

Presentation: usually is asking a series of pointless questions about
a topic or objective or grammar point in the book. Eg "What do you see
in the picture? Why is the woman happy? What is she doing etc? Have
you ever done this? Where, when etc? Personally I think it makes the
student look stupid.

Practice: usually is reading out loud/ repeating the vocabulary,
dialogue or grammar point in the book.

Performance: usually consists of "role plays" where the students make
up a dialogue based on a situation that would use the
topic/objective/grammar/vocabulary point. The teacher needs to set
this up so the students know what to do, the students need to be
creative. I find this a hit or miss, sometimes it's alot of fun, other
times the situation I hastily set up just falls apart with dead
silence and confused looks (a teacher's worst nightmare).

Since the point in question was describing people, James whips out the
board game "Guess Who?", so much fun is had by all!

9:00pm: James goes home, attempts dinner, and watches cheesy Korean
soap operas, which all tend to be Comedy-Dramas.

I must admit I am addicted to them. Sure, they're all in Korean, but
you can just watch the actions and you know what's going on. One
favorite is a series where a 30+ married woman finds her pilot husband
having an affair with a 20+ stewardess. Woman and stewardess confront
each other, fight in the car and have an accident. As a result they
switch bodies. The chaos this causes in their lives is hilarious yet
dramatic. Sort of like a series version of "Freaky Friday".

Another favorite seems to be a take on "Anne of Green Gables", where a
city girl concerned with luxury and looking good ends up working on
her grandfathers farm in the countryside to earn her inheritance. You
can imagine the result.

And that's about the general gist of it. Weekends are usually a mix of
going out partying in the many vibrant districts of Seoul (Sinchon,
Itaewon, Gangnam), hanging out with friends, going on dates, and
catching up on sleep from the week or the night before...

More on Seoul life and love next email... stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Expressing my Seoul

Annyeong Haseyo!

For some more incriminating photos from another mate of mine:

go to

and click on the "Korea 6/20" link.

And yes, thats me, having a "nap" on the floor of a Karaoke bar. With
casanets in hands. Clearly i've partied too hard that night...


According to some Korean friends of mine, I look like a famous Korean
action actor called something along the lines of "Shin Ha Koon" or
something. Cool! I'll have to find some more info and photos and
then let you decide if they are right or not.


The one thing I don't like about Seoul is the weather. It goes to
extremes here. In summer there is the rainy monsoon season, followed
by a really hot and humid dry spell, followed by more rain. In winter,
it's all cold and snowy and -10 degrees.

At the moment, it's monsoon season. I've never seen pouring rain so
hard and thick, even in traditionally rainy places like England! And
when it rains, it rains non stop for hours. This year especially Korea
has had the worst flood since 16 years ago! There have been
casualities, lots of damage and businesses out of work, as well as
several places under water.

Usually, at the start of the hot humid season, everyone has chicken
soup with gingseng, or even dog meat soup. These hot soups are
apparently good to have during such weather. Hot dog!

And no I haven't tried dog meat soup, thanks for asking.


During the summer, there is a famous Mud festival held on the beaches
south of Seoul. An interesting concept, it revolves around people
getting covered up in mud and doing muddy things, like mud wrestling,
dancing, sports and other mud activities. This is usually accompanied
by much drinking and music. Best of all, it's all free (and it should
be, I mean it's just dirt you know...)! The mud itself is supposed to
be good for the skin, and is probably one of the few places where it
doesn't matter if you spill beer on yourself

However, after much thought, I never went. Firstly because it was
raining, and secondly because I've seen and walked through enough mud
here that I have no real desire to soak myself in more mud! But maybe
next year...


Koreans love to mix their drinks. Their "rounds" consist of a huge
quantity of different drinks at different locations. Usually averaging
3 rounds, one ends up having gone to 3 different places in the same
night, each time someone else paying for it. Round one might be dinner
with some beer and soju. Round two and Round three (should one make it
to round three) might be at a bar with beer, soju and whisky,
sometimes all at the same time (mixing them together, they are known
as "explosive" drinks)!

This explains why many of my students come to class hungover.

There is also a type of drink that was popular two years ago. It
involved mixing soju (20% alc) with a slightly larger quantity of
Chinese Herbal Wine (10% alc) called Back-Say-Ju (100-year-old wine -
brandname). The end result is something called Oh-Sip-Say-Ju
(50-year-old wine). The taste is hard to describe, quite unique in a
strong herbal way.

The good thing about all this is that it's very easy to drink...

The bad thing about all this is that it's very easy to drink!!


It's amazing how many unwritten rules and laws there are for the
simple transaction of a business card. Here are the basic rules:

1.Cards are given with the right hand, received with the left, simultaneously.

2.Cards are read with both hands.

3.Cards must not be placed below the level of the table or waist.

4.Cards should be left on table till end of meeting.

5.Cards must be put in wallet. This wallet should go into shirt or
jacket pocket.

6.If several cards are received, the most senior* card goes to the top
of the line.

7. Age is almost as important as position.

(I'm really pushing the puns now )

Asking someone their age in this part of the world early in the first
meeting is quite common and not rude. This is because learning one's
age helps people classify you, work out the pecking order of your
relationship with them, and thus how to address/talk/deal with you.

This is why you often get people cutting you off in queues, ignoring
you in general, not acknowledging your presence etc, until you are
introduced and age is known. This is because you have not been
"classified"; you have no placement to the other so therefore they
don't know how to treat you. It can be annoying but you get used to

Conservative Confucion Style Korean tradition states you must always
respect your elders: - They get the first bite of food on the table,
eat first, drink first, etc. The youngest must serve the elders first,
ensure their cups are full etc.

To serve drinks, Korean tradition and etiquette states you must serve
everyone except yourself. To do so, you hold the bottle with two
hands. The person receiving the drink holds their glass with two hands
too. Of course, the more senior doesn't have to show this respect at
all to the younger. Also, the more close friendship you have with
someone the less you have to bother doing it.


Seoul is changing so quickly, even though I've only been here for a
month I can notice the differences. One of the major proponents of
change has been the rise of feminism. In the recent past, the norm was
that women would marry and play the subserviant housewife role,
serving the husband when he comes home from work, walking behind him
on the street, etc. The house was the womans' domain - she would clean
and look after the children. (And at some point in the past, they
trained any left handed children to use their right hand for doing
tasks, as left handed people were considered inferior). Nowadays,
women are increasingly scrapping the idea of marriage and traditional
roles for working hard long hours in the workplace, and refusing to
worship their husbands.

This has caused alot of confusion, as both men and women are still
learning their new places in society, and are uncertain of how the
future will unfold. Examples of confusion are the odd male who
accepts the wife as equal in earning money and respect, yet also
expects them to still cook and clean at home - also the women will
boast their indepedence, yet by force of habit, will still find
herself serving her husband and taking on the traditional role without
even realising it. Korea still has a long way to go in terms of womens
rights and equal opportunity, but it will be interesting to see what
will happen in the next 10 years.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Heart and Seoul

Annyeong Haseyo!

For a couple of photos and blogs from one of the crew I hang out with
here in Seoul:


Female Student: "I got my boss satisfied.."


Female Student: "Yes, I satisfied him.."


According to another student of mine, Korean people originated from an
ancient myth that goes like this: One day a bear ate some garlic, and
low and behold became the ancestor of the Korean people today.

I can't say the Koreans resemble or have the strength of a bear, but
the garlic breath - definitely!*

*Koreans love garlic, roasted on a Korean barbecue in vast quantities,
downed with much meat, kimchi** and soju/beer. It's an awesome meal to
share with other people.

**I never thought i'd say this, but I'm now addicted to Kim chi. Where
before I wasn't sure I could eat every meal with the everpresent
collection of small pickled spicy garlicky vegetables and seafood, but
now I'm not sure if I can have a meal without them! I'm not even
longer adverse to the idea of Kimchi burgers (since they put kimchi in
almost everything!) However this is still no love with the coffee,
nope, nada, low caffeine hazelnut flavored brown water just doesn't do
it for me. At all.


Just as we foreigners ask things like "Whats your star sign?" or
"What's your Zodiac sign" etc, Koreans (or maybe Asians in general)
tend to ask the bloodtype question. Why? Because they believe that
people with certain bloodtypes exhibit certain characteristics.

Below is a summary of the characteristics gleaned from a student of
mine. Whats your bloodtype?

A = Most common bloodtype in Korea. They tend to be shy, introverted,
honest, emotional, sensistive, diligent, worry about what other people
say or think about them.

B = Less common bloodtype. Act unusual, unpredictable, erratic. Not
shy, don't care about people or anything really. Not the best
characteristic for men. Apparently theres a famous Korean movie called
"B-Type Boyfriend" which is all about a guy with these
characteristics. I'll have to watch it one day...

0 = Extroverted, social, talkative. Envied by A type people. Always
happy. Don't care what other people say or think about them, happy to
do as they please. Sensual.

AB = Least common. Similar to B. Make great leaders. Have great
managing skills. Also don't care about what people think.

I don't really know my bloodtype. My parents are A and O respectively
so I could be either A, O, or AO.

I've been told if you don't know, just say O, because thats the best
one to have.

Sammy, the girl i'm seeing, is O but tends to exhibit A
characteristics alot.


Is coming along nicely, i've cleaned it up quite alot, and i've killed
many resident flies and cockcroaches (the last Korean tenant was quite
messy, she never cleaned up much). Thankfully they're dwindling in
number. Thanks to Sammy's assistance I now have food and cleaning
equipment bought cheaply at Emart, and a huge 26"? screen TV that she
gave me since her family no longer needs it. The only problem is
Korean TV is in Korean, so I'm looking at cable and DVD options.

Sleeping on the floor on a futon is good for the back, but still takes
some getting used to. Koreans like being close to the floor, they eat
off low coffee tables with cushions as seats, something i'm looking
into for my place also.

I should really invest in a washing machine. Handwashing just does not work.

The apartment is situated slightly up a hill, where one would sit
inside facing the open front door to admire the "beautiful" views of
concrete and brick apartments, stairways all over the place in
escheresque fashion, and the pouring pouring rain.

Anyway, I'll write more on things like the monsoons, floods and the
mud festival etc in another long winded email soon.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

James' Life in Seoul so far

Annyeong Haseyo!

I love Seoul! Probably the only place where you can go to an old
dingy dirty place called (roughly) "Old Beef House", and after being
seated in a dilapidated graffited low ceiling room with walls on
verge of collapse, order the only dish they serve: - "Beef". Except
it's not beef, it's actually fried fish, accompanied by a huge
washbasin filled with white rice wine, which you ladle into your
drinking bowls. The "beef" is fantastic however and i'm definitely
going back...if only I could remember how to through the dark
labyrinth of narrow lanes and ancient alleyways within the bustling
neonlighted modern streets of downtown.

Which does sum up Seoul in a sense - where Ancient East meets Modern
West; where clean sleek shopping malls with the latest fashions meet
old dirty market places filled with exotic and unusual foods and
wares; where high rise buildings and skyscrapers of glass and steel
meet mysterious tranquil temples, palaces and houses of tiled roofs
and colourfully painted wooden beams, often within parks or hidden
around the corner of the main roads or passageways.


I'm working for a company called Berlitz International, one of the
oldest language centres in the world. Mostly we are teaching adults
from big corporations - Berlitz is the most expensive language centre
in Korea, charging between $150-300AUD an hour! (to which we
insignificant teachers get a tiny fraction of that).

I've certainly learnt alot about what to do and what not to do when
looking for teaching work overseas. The main lesson to learn is that
there is no such thing as too much research!

So here are the pros and cons about working for Berlitz;

The Pros: The great thing about working here is that you teach the
same material in the same style anywhere in the world, meaning if I
were to go teach in say, Uruguay, if there is a Berlitz centre there,
I'd already have the experience and skills to work straight away.

Because it's a big company, they are pretty reliable and safe to work
for. There are many stories of would be teachers that apply for a job
sounding too good to be true without adequate research, and find their
friendly little school in picturesque surroundings turns out to be a
school with no learning materials, no assistance and located in the
industrial area of the picturesque city. The apartment they provide
you turns out to be grotty and dirty with holes in the walls and no
heating. And they might not pay you, or it may not come in time (one
person I heard didn't get paid till 6 months of working later). At
least with Berlitz, they always pay on time, and there is a minimum
pay should you not get enough work during the quieter months.

The Cons: The downside of working for a big company is that you're
working for a big company, meaning you can feel like an ant churning
out lessons to whoever walks into the classroom. This means it's hard
to build closer friendships with the students, by the time you
remember their names they either move to another teacher or they
finish their course.

It's also very hard to get definite or honest clarification on small
things; things are made overly complicated and the contract could be
open to interpretation. Korea it turns out is not the most efficient
or effective country when it comes to red tape. So it was only through
lots of research, internet forums and emailing actual teachers who
work here that I choose this job. (And i've heard it's much better
here than working for the dodgy yet popular Nova in Japan as many
teachers have told me from their own personal experience - teachers
usually do 1 year in Japan then 1 year in Korea for variety).

Initial training here is 5 days unpaid. At least you get to bond
with other new teachers going through training there, as I did.


I'm about to move into my very own unfurnished two bedroom apartment
in the foreign area of Seoul. It costs me 370,000 won a month, but the
company pays for 300,000 won of that, so i'm living mostly rent free
(1AUD = 1500won). However, because it's unfurnished, I am sleeping on
the floor until I can afford the time and money to get proper
furnishings... The only thing they will supply me with is a
fridge, stove and wardrobe.

Top of my list is blankets and pillows (many Koreans sleep on the
floor so it's not a problem, especially since Koreans don't wear shoes
in the house and the floor is always clean. Plus the added bonus of
underfloor heating that most houses have).
Then probably table, chairs, sofa, and TV/DVD/Stereo etc... but i'm in no rush.


I've made several friends, mostly foreigners though. The group of
people I did training with are pretty close, especially after many
drunken nights, we even have nicknames for each other.

I've also got some Korean friends, a girl from Busan (a port city to
the south of Korea) called Yoon Ji (who I met in Galway Ireland last
year) and her sister Eun Ji who lives in Seoul. Yoon speaks very good
English having just come back from a year studying in America. Her
sister Eun is learning English, so I could help her with her English
while she could help me with my apartment.

Anyway, stay tuned for more exciting developments!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

James sells his soul to Seoul, SOUTH KOREA

Annyeong Haseyo!

Well, here I am, finally in Seoul, in what is looking to be a really
exciting and interesting year for me teaching English to adults,
predominently business people and even CEOs of big companies. Anyway,
just thought i'd write my initial thoughts on Seoul...


The food in Korea is an acquired taste - everything is so spicy!
Almost every meal comes with a collection of Kimchi - which are
several small servings of pickled and spiced seafood and vegetables.
This may also come with cold soup and rice. Anything else complements
this basic arrangement of dining. So you can see why after a few days
I was starting to crave burgers and fries...

Other more notable food is a dish called Bimbimbap, which is a
collection of sliced vegetables and other unidentifiable substances on
rice, with a fried egg on top. Usually served in a sizzling hotpot,
you pour a generous amount of red pepper paste on top and mix it all

But nothing is better than the Korean BBQ. In these places, at the
centre of a table is embedded a gasfire stove, where you would put in
assorted types of meat, marianated or freeze dried at times, along
with a generous helping of garlic. And of course the everpresent

The coffee is absolutely awful here! It's a very weak, hazelnut
flavored tasteless brown water - but apparently people acquire a taste
for that too. I personally doubt it.

Then there's the alcohol Where else can you buy a 375ml bottle of
soju (similar to vodka) for 1US dollar? That and the really nice beer
they have called Cass has resulted in many nights where "just going
for one beer" ends up at a 4 o'clock in the morning having incoherent
conversations smelling of garlic from the Korean BBQ you decided to
have with all your mates and ever more resolving in your mind that
"once i'm more settled working i'll stop spending so much going out
and having fun".

Korea as an interesting form of entertainment - bangs (meaning rooms).
Everywhere there are DVD bangs, PC Bangs, Karaoke Bangs, Boardgame
Bangs, etc. What they are are little rooms that people hang out in
with privacy any thing they want to do. DVD bangs are notorious for
being used for shagging since most Koreans live at home and they can't
do their naughty business anywhere.

One annoying aspect of the bars in Korea is that most of them require
you to order side dishes, as this is how most of them make their
money. This doesn't sound too bad, but when you take into account that
a side dish would cost on average $15AUD, when all you want is a beer,
it's pretty frustrating. After a while though you start to learn where
there are other bars that allow you to order beers only, usually the
ones highly frequented by foreigners.


Seoul has a substantial number of foreigners, either working as
military, or as teachers. There are alot of American GIs around, who
have a curfew of midnight to return to their army base, because they
used to cause alot of trouble getting drunk and getting into fights.
I'm not surprised, not wanting to critise Americas military, but most
of them are really a group of meatheads that follow orders. Most
people (other foreigners and Koreans) generally avoid them.

The foreigners live in Haebonchon (where I currently reside), the
cheapest area of Seoul, which is interesting because this area is
quite close to the city centre. It's a very hilly concrete jungle with
the US military base right in the middle, but having the Seoul Tower
above on the very top of the hill does add a good point of reference
and illuminates nicely at night.


I've lost count of the times that I would be ordering a meal with
other foreigners, and when the waiter/tress comes, ignoring the orders
from my friends, would look directly at me, as if I'm supposed to
order for them or something. After spouting some words to me in
Korean, I would try to explain to them that I don't know Korean, do
you speak English? The waiter/tress would stare blankly at me for a
moment, then repeat what they said originally but louder. It would be
quite amusing if it didn't happen so often.

My favorite was when I went into a restaurant and asked the waitress
if I could have an English menu. Her response was to look at me
quizzically and ask "why?"


Is a very big event here, so it's a shame Korea failed to make it to
the next round. Whenever Korea were playing (the matches usually
showing at 4am), the city center would be filled with thousands of
Koreans wearing red shirts, glowing devil horns and red plastic blow
up sticks (Korean team being the Reds), chanting "Dae-A-Ming-Go (sic)"
which means "Korea". Of course me buying a red shirt myself didn't
help seperate me from the locals - my friends kept losing me; all i
needed to do is turn around and i'd vanish into the crowd!

Koreans are very well behaved. When the lost the game to Switzerland
and failed to quality, there was no anger or rioting, just a massive
silence throughout the several thousand strong crowd. It was sad to
watch, as they all went home very quiet and withdrawn.

The Korean people have truely won my heart, they are endearing, social
and hospitable people. Crime is at an all low here. For a city of 10
million the overall effect makes you feel like you're in a gigantic
community - you feel so welcome and comfortable even though its
crowded and you're anonymous. The city is also very spread out, so
there are not many skyscrapers that make it look like a compact city.
The big hill in the centre, the huge palaces dotted around the place
(which I have yet to see) and the river prevents any compact
construction of skyscapers, which makes it feel even less of a big
city and more a (very very) big town.

Korean girls are very fashionable and beautiful, slim and wear makeup
with style.

Anyway, next email i'll write more about my work, housing, friends and
a Korean girl named Sammy. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 12, 2006

James' first taste of the Orient - Malaysia

Hello everybody!

I'm in Korea at the moment and also I'm a little hungover writing this
so forgive me if this email sounds disjointed and long winded...

Well, after an anticlimatic farewell to friends and family and
finalising arrangments, I had to wait a long 3 weeks twiddling my
thumbs and waiting impatiently for the visa process to be complete.
Finally after much delay I got the E-2 visa (to work in Korea) and
booked the first ticket I could out of Australia!

I ended up getting a flight that stopped over in Kuala Lumpur. So I
thought i'd spend a couple of days there first so I get a good idea of
what an Asian country is like (since i've never been to one before),
and then start work in Korea.

So Kuala Lumpur....

KL, despite the fact that the weather just can't make up it's mind
between sun or rain (every 30 minutes it alternates!), the temperature
and humidity is as thick as a sauna (I was shocked to arrive at 9pm -
in 27 degree heat!), is quite a wonderful exotic place. It is the
perfect place for shoppers and eaters - in fact what drew me to KL was
the food. Malaysia is a meeting point for all types of cultures;
Malay, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc.

The restaurants would look run down with plastic tables and chairs,
dirty floors etc, but at least you can see the chefs cooking (usually
motherly types) right in front of you. The service is usually not very
good, but the food comes out freshly cooked and delicious. Nasi Goreng
(fried rice) was a favorite as was Nasi Lemak (coconut rice), served
with meat and vegetables from a wok, or overly deep fried! Mee
(noodles) was also common, served in different ways, dry or in soup,
usually spicy.

KL is also a shoppers paradise, as the whole city is pretty much a
gathering of markets and gigantic shopping plazas. One shopping plaza
(called Times Square) is one of the biggest in the world, 10 floors of
shopping pleasure. What made this plaza interesting was that it even
contained a Theme park! The rollercoaster (that's right,
rollercoaster!) went up 5 floors and was fully functional and fully

The market places always overcharge up to 5 times the real amount, so
you have to haggle. Which is kinda fun, since you and the vendor have
fun doing it like a game, acting nonchalant, or threatening to walk
off etc.

I remember hanging out with this sweet funny Austrian girl called Lisa
(who I found myself fancying and I think vice versa since we had a
certain chemistry together, and alas if she didn't have to fly out
later that day maybe something of a romantic nature would have
happened. Sigh. So in a sense it's probably a good thing too. But I
digress) where we tried to buy an umbrella (because of the sporadic

After much effort, comparing prices with Australian prices and stating
that we would rather walk in the rain!, we brought the price down to
10MYR ($3.50) from 50MYR. Rather proud of our efforts we continued on
our way, pretending not to notice the umbrellas for sale for 6-9MYR
nearby. I guess the moral of the story is to check prices of things
before entering the country so you have an idea of how much things

Another interesting thing about KL was the kooky buildings they have
there. Most of the skyscrapers and tall buildings are original,
unconventional and have no desire to fit in it's surroundings - they
don't seem designed to be discreet thats for sure. The end result
gives the city a chaotic yet modern look. A building with elements
resembling a temple will stand next to one covered with vegetation,
next to one with Islamic design..

Which brings me to the world famous Petronas Towers, the tallest twin
towers in the world (owned by an Oil company). This building was
inspired by Islamic art, the tesellations of squares and circles
tapering at the top gives the building its distinctive attractive
appearance. You can't go to the top though, only halfway to the bridge
connecting the two, and you have to turn up early and book a time to
come back later, because tickets are limited each day. At least it was
free. The views were pretty impressive though they only give you 10
minutes to go up, look around on the bridge, then come down. Which
makes sense I guess seeing it's just a building and not much else to

I spent most of my time hanging out with this cool
Welsh/Indian/Portugese girl named Donna, who not only thought and did
things and held beliefs so close to my own (that it was almost like
she was my alterego, although female, left handed and vegetarian), but
she reaffirmed my reason for doing what i'm doing now, and the
lifestyle of travel that I have chosen. It's nice to know there are
people that think along the same lines as yourself, especially when
trying to live a life so unconventional to normal people. I am a
different person when I'm home in Melbourne - travelling again I feel
much more happy and alive and full of purpose. But again I'm getting
sidetracked, I did warn you this email will be disjointed... and my
hangover hasn't improved either (and I'm starting work in a few hours

Anyway, did a day trip with Donna to the Batu caves, 15km out of KL.
The Batu caves is on a side of a mountain, covered with rainforest,
and is 273 steps up through beautiful gates of carved brightly painted
Hindu sculptures of gods and goddesses. In fact the whole cave is a
Hindu temple, filled with stalagtites (turned into stone), little
temples of painted wood dedicated to various deities, and a lot of
crazy monkeys sitting around eating coconuts, bananas and flowers, and
sometimes grabbing food out of tourists hands when least expected.
Cheeky! The caves also has the largest golden hindu statue in the
world standing right at the entrance to the caves.

Anyway, after 3 days in KL it was time to fly out to Seoul.

And so I arrived in Korea... and what a fantastic place!!!!!

Which I will write about in my next big blog!


Saturday, June 10, 2006

James heads for Asia...Finally!

Hi all,

It's been a while since I last wrote, mainly because i've been stuck
in Melbourne not having done much travelling (does Tasmania count?) in
the last 7 months. However, these last months back at home has been a
nice reprieve from living out of a backpack, sleeping on dirty
squashed mattresses and cramped bus seats. And home cooked meals! The
best invention since sliced bread - or as was in my case, the
ubiquitous kebab; cheap, filling, and seen running rampant all over
Europe and the Middle East (from the tiny pickled ones of Jordan to
the monster kebabs of Poland - the size of ones head - which you have
to eat with a fork!).

Despite the creature comforts of home, the travel bug won't leave me
alone. And so, I pick up my dusty backpack, and yet again abandon
reality and the voice in my head urging me to settle down in order to
see most of the world before my 30th birthday (give or take).


The plan is to work for a whole year teaching English in Seoul (South
Korea). This will follow a year of travel through the whole of Asia
itself, followed perhaps by another year teaching in Japan, or even
Eastern Europe. I'll then live a nomadic life; making my way to South
America, teaching, travelling and volunteering, head my way up through
the US and Canada, and then Africa (where I'll do more work and
volunteering). By this time I should be 30 or so and be ready (in
theory) to deal with "real life"!

Of course Australia is still part of the travel plan, though I plan to
do that with my parents when they retire. My dad has dreams of
travelling around Australia in a 4WD, and I can never turn down a good
road trip!

Of course these are just plans, in truth it's hard to say what or
where i'll end up. Last time I planned a 6 month venture to Western
Europe, it ended in my 2.5year joint around Europe/Middle East. So who


Basically I got too comfortable living the routine of normal life! I
was planning to leave by February!

Because I knew I was going to leave again soon, I've been staying with
my parents, found temporary work selling internet and mobiles for
Telstra (Australia's largest Telecommunications provider), and
generally relaxing and catching up with friends and family. And
enjoying home cooked meals.

I've also enjoyed the company of some of you fellow overseas
travellers coming over to stay with me or show you around my hometown
of Melbourne.

I've had my mate John from England experience a "east meets west"
Christmas with my family (eg turkey stuffed with fried rice) and also
birdwatching in the Yoo yang mountains. John also took me to one of
the Boxing Day test matches (instead of the other way around, since I
don't know much about cricket - and to think I call myself

Monica from Romania (who runs a hostel in Suceava - have a guess who made the website? )
also came Downunder. I took her to places such as the fairy penguins
and seals on Phillip Island, the Great Ocean Road, and at the last
minute she talked me into going on a quick 3 day trip around Tasmania
with her.


I'm glad I did, since Tasmania is quite beautiful in its wilderness, a
"mini version of New Zealand" one tourist noted. With a hired car we
drove on crazy winding mountain roads, took many unhappy insects with
us on an unexpected journey through the countryside (i.e splattered on
the car front), explored the huge rainforests with moss covered
1000-year-old huon pines, sassaffras, redwoods, blackwoods, all kinds
of woods; we cruised the UNESCO Heritage listed Gordon river (only
place which meets 7/10 requirements of the UNESCO criteria - an UNESCO
site only needs 1 to make it on the list!), visited the magestic
Cradle mountain and Cataract gorge, and dined on the best fresh fish
I've ever eaten in Hobart, Strahan and Launceston, which are more big
towns than cities. Friendly locals, though some of them are clearly
inbred... Joking!


To start, I thought it would be best to complete a TESOL Certification
(, making me now a "qualified
English teacher to speakers of other languages". I now know what
"passive voice" means in my Word documents, and what foreigners mean
when they ask me for the past perfect continous tense of a word,
something that some of you fellow travellers have probably encountered
as well!

After some Internet searching through job agencies abroad, and a 1
hour overseas phone interview, I accepted a job offer to go teach
English in Seoul for a year, for a company called Berlitz
International, a world renowned Language Centre.

Basically I will be teaching conversational English to mainly adults
working for companies like Samsung, LG and so on (hopefully I can
score free phones and stuff off them). Airfare and accomodation
(right in the centre of Seoul) is mostly paid for, tax is pretty low
(approx 4-9%), and is a great way of learning about another culture,
by living amongst them. As well as doing all the touristy stuff like
venturing into the Demilitarized Zone (where North and South Korean
soldiers stand literally centimetres apart facing each other), I've
already got a couple of local friends in Korea i'm planning to meet
with to help me see and learn about the real Seoul. It's gonna be fun!


After several long delays with getting the work visa (was trying to
leave 3 weeks ago!), I should now be leaving Melbourne next Monday. I
will first spend a few days in Malaysia seeing the sights before
heading up to Seoul in mid June, where the next chapter of my life
will begin. It will be sad to leave everything and everyone behind
once again. But it will also be quite interesting living and working
in a country where English isn't the first language and the culture is
different from my Australian upbringing. I wonder how many people I'll
offend in my first week?

Wish me luck!