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!