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Archive for October, 2006

Lazy in Korea

The title says it all, really. I got an internet connection last week and the amount of work it’s allowing me not to do is disturbing. I will get round to doing a more in-depth post. At some point. (I’m still thinking about reviewing a book I read a month or two before I left Britain, as well.)

I have, however, started a new blog. This one is going to be a writing diary-cum-online wordprocessor. Or at least, that’s what I’m thinking. Have a look at my first couple of posts here.

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Rat-bottomed Maybe

One of the highlights of my time here came last Friday night when I went out with colleagues and other English teachers to the classily-entitled Beer Plus. It’s actually quite a nice place – clean and open, with couches in a greyish shade of orange that go well with the wooden tables and floor. There were a number of people in our party (another party of English teachers sat nearby later on), including a couple of other Brits (one I’ve already mentioned and a Geordie) and a couple of Korean teachers.

The first part of the evening passed relatively quietly. Some food was ordered and there was a continuous supply of beer (of which I partook because I didn’t feel like ordering something else; the supply was kept continuous by means of buttons on each table that you use to attract the staff’s attention). I exchanged a bit of conversation with whoever was sitting next to me – how long have you been in Korea? – that kind of thing. At one point, one of my colleagues had the misfortune to be seated at the end of a couch next to me. She started asking me about what my pre-Korean life was like – in the manner of someone trying to get blood out of a stone, but only because they’ve got nothing else to do.

I found myself sat next to a guy whose name had been mentioned to me another time. We started having a conversation about what fantasy novels we’ve read – in fact, we like pretty much the same authors – Donaldson, Martin, Jordan. He seems to be a big fan of Feist, though, and I’m not impressed with Magician so far. He didn’t know of Erikson and made a note of the name.

Around this time the soju started flowing. Soju is the Korean equivalent of sake, I suppose. It doesn’t have too strong a taste – as someone else said, it doesn’t give you the shudder effect of vodka, say. She also said it tastes like rubbing alcohol. As far liquors go, I didn’t think it was too bad. I don’t remember how many I had, but it was a good few in addition to endlessly topped up glasses of beer. So at some point I got very drunk. Drunker than I’ve ever been, in fact. Suddenly, all these people who were previously strange (in the sense of unknown) had enclosed me in their camaraderie.

Somebody – some guy, I should say – took their top off and others (still guys) followed suit. Well, I didn’t want to be conspicuous by being different, so I took mine off, too. This general state of semi-undress then progressed to three-quarter-undress as they started taking their trousers off, too. Again, I joined in – it would have been rude not to. I think my abovementioned female colleague has some footage on her camera or phone of us dancing in our underpants.

Towards the end of the evening I wove my way towards the toilets to be sick a couple of times. I was in the last group of people to leave; I remember wondering what the landlord and his waiter thought of us. I contributed 30,000 won, but later when I mentioned this, my male colleague gave me 20,000 back. I think the total bill came to something like 200,000 won (112 pounds) – for ten or twelve people drinking all night, plus food.

In the morning I was sick several times in the general direction of my toilet. I couldn’t keep anything down. In the afternoon I showered (having first rinsed down the bathroom floor) and went for a walk (I ended up getting some laptop speakers for 24,400 won; they work very well – all you need to do is plug them into a USB port and you have (relatively) loud, bassy music). I didn’t shake my headache until I went to bed on Saturday night.

Apparently, the other teachers do this night out twice a week – Wednesdays and Fridays. They can have Wednesdays, but I imagine I’ll go out again this Friday – it’s something to do. I’ll try not to get quite so drunk (which will be useful because I’m going to a meal with the British Association of Seoul the following evening).

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I met another English English teacher the other day – a guy from Bournemouth. He mentioned an experience he’d had in the Amazon. He hadn’t tucked his insect netting in properly and, well, to cut a short story even shorter, in a state of semi-consciousness involutarily ate a large cockroach. His mouth was filled with some vile liquid, which he swallowed before he was fully awake. In the morning he showed a wing he found on his bedding to his guide, who told him what it was. The guide also said that cockroaches, when they sense that they’re in danger, lay all their eggs – which he took to be the vile liquid. Nice.

On Saturday I discovered a cricket in my apartment. Not sure how it got there – it must have crawled through some crevice. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it. I tried taking pictures, but even using the macro function they just came out as blurs. The cricket was roughly the same shape and size as a large house spider. At one point I poked at it with my camera and the thing started hopping about in my direction. Briefly overmastered by atavistic fear, I scrambled out of the way. I then tried to herd it towards the french windows, but it wouldn’t co-operate, so I let it hide under the bed. When it strayed out again later I trapped it under a mug, slid a leaflet about Fukuoka underneath and threw it out of the window.

Yes, OK, my anecdote isn’t as impressive. But I kind of like that.

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‘No Leaf Clover’, Metallica

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Something I love about good high fantasy is the fact that when you’ve read one book, that’s not the end of the story, that you have further volumes to look forward to that promise to be as good as the one just read. Perhaps four years ago I started reading George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and am eagerly awaiting book five; in the last two years I started reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, book six of which came out earlier this year – book seven probably arriving in 2008. The front cover of The Darkness that Comes Before bears a quote from Erikson: ‘Something remarkable has begun’. If Bakker builds on what he’s created here, then I would have to agree.

2,000 years ago the land of Earwa suffered an apocalyptic war and it seems that the forces that provoked this war are at work again. The central characters include a middle-aged, world-weary sorcerer and his prostitute lover, a childish but cunning emperor and his brilliant tactician nephew, a brutal plains warrior, and, perhaps most importantly, a monk whose training makes him an irresistably seductive empath and a fighter with preternatural reflexes. These players occupy a stage that is clearly inspired by the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern empires of antiquity.

The 640 pages of this novel aren’t action-filled, there’s a lot of introspection and a healthy dose of political machination, and while this could make for a dull book, the writing is such that it becomes quite compelling. Some parts are more compelling than others, though – Ikurei Xerius III, the spoilt emperor can be tiresome, and even Drusas Achamian, arguably the main character, descends into consuming self-pity. The most fascinating character is Anasurimbor Kellhus, and, though there are sections from his point of view, we never quite learn his agenda; this isn’t just authorial secret-keeping – Kellhus’s strength of mind is such that he wouldn’t think of somthing unless he needed to.

The writing is very strong throughout, although it suffers from being a bit too portentous, especially in the prologues (there are two – one short, one long), but you get used to this. Kellhus’s intellectual, emotional and phsyical powers border on being too much, too imbalancing; and sorcery in this world – although it’s used very little and magi are seen as blasphemous by many – seems overpowered, as well. The other main complaint I would have is that not quite enough happens during the book – in some ways, though, The Darkness that Comes Before feels like a prologue to the story that will unfold in future books. But still, this is an extremely promising start to a series – as soon as I get my hands on the internet I’ll have a look for Book Two, The Warrior-Prophet.

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Groucho Marx

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Update

This is my second day working to the new schedule at the school – a schedule which includes me (whereas before I was taking the classes of an absent teacher). It’s not too bad – I still have the two double kindergarten blocks in the morning and in the afternoon I’ll have about four classes as well. The afternoon classes are the same on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday (the busier days), and the same (but a different same) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So this afternoon I’l be meeting my second set of students.

Now that I’m being paid I think I’m going to get the internet and cable TV – the former for obvious reasons (hopefully I’ll be able to hook up my laptop), the latter because at least then I can switch on the news first thing in the morning. I’ll need to find out how I go about these things, of course. There’s also a possibility of joing of forming a book group with other waeguk teachers in the Seoul area – if that’s realised then I just need to find a source of books in English (it may just be Amazon and eBay). And then I may also start taking Korean lessons.

Other than that there’s not much to report. The school director invited the foreign teachers to a meal at ther apartment with her family. Her husband runs another hagwon and speaks better English, although with a strong accent. Their eldest daughter (besides being very pretty) has pretty decent English (with the obligatory American accent). Their apartment overlooks Ansan Lake Park, and the husband took us out for a post-prandial constitutional.

I finished reading The Darkness that Comes Before and have a review on my USB memory thing ready for uploading (the computers here don’t have USB ports that work). Now I’m considering reading Raymond E Feist’s Magician.

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