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Archive for April, 2007

In to gnash an all-day

Strangely – especially strangely, given that it’s a Monday, Wednesday or Friday – I have a few spare moments at work to do a bit of a write-up. Over the last week or so, the class I usually have has dwindled to just one student, then on Friday it was just none – likewise today. They have exams at the moment, so I suppose they’re all cramming for those.

Today was International Day at our hagwon. I stayed up all night finding pictures on the internet and putting them into Word documents along with bits of descriptive text. By the time I headed into work – later than usual – I’d created 47 pages, in addition to the eight I’d already completed. When I got there, the printing off process was pleasantly smooth and surprise-free – I’d uploaded them all to my main e-mail address’s Yahoo! Briefcase account (and was disturbed to find that it didn’t already exist (ie, I had to set it up first) because I was sure I had stuff on there already. Thinking about it though, that work is probably associated with another address). Then I had the annoyance of not being able to get into my designated classroom because of a class being held in there.

The process itself was pretty underwhelming, and in hindsight, I would have done less work. Actually, with the wonderful benefits of hindsight, instead of creating a kind browsable exhibit, I would have done more of a lecture. The kids mostly just sat there listing to me and my co-teacher, allowing themselves to be prompted into saying the occasional word. There were also too many students at one time and not enough time with them.

I also took 300 digestive biscuits and teabags and a brand new flask into school in order to make tea and biscuits. In practice there wasn’t really time – either to make the tea or to offer it to them. I went through the same routine – about the UK, the four home nations, where it is on a map of the world, the coins and notes, the colours of the flags – for every class, hesitantly at first, then less hesitantly. My colleague, Gina, helped out and offered ideas.

I’m falling asleep as I write this. I’m going to get some of that tea.

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Well, three, anyway. As I mentioned on my post this morning, I was expecting a trio of novels – and they all arrived during the day. I’ve been reading The Steep Approach to Garbadale. 30-odd pages into it and it seems pretty decent. Unlike many of Banks’s ‘literary’ fiction novels, where most of the plot seems to be crowded into the last few chapters, this one appears to have plot going on from the start. It seems a long time since the last Banks book I read – which will have been The Algebraist – so I wanted to start on this one first. Hmm. Even though there are two other books I’m part-way through at the moment.

I’m also, right now, uploading my video files to my new MediaMax account. I say ‘new’ – I opened it a while ago, but never got round to doing much with it. Although it uses this thing called Streamload – meaning you can stream video and music from, or even have other people access it – I just want to use it for storage. You get 25GB with a free account and, if I remember rightly, 1GB downloading rights before you start getting charged.

My laptop could probably do with having extra stuff removed and put into storage. Why ‘extra stuff’? Well, I’ve also spent some time cleaning it out – and I’m currently pushing the 3GB mark for free space. Now I just have a gigabyte of photos and videos that have been languishing untouched on my camera to upload.

I’ve been thinking about buying a new laptop. There’s a technology market in Seoul – a large multistorey building – that’s packed with cameras, phones and PCs. It would seem the logical place to go, but of course there’s the ever-present language problem. I can see myself buying a new laptop from Home plus.

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Bulletin, 25 April

Things in general are going OK. My health is reasonable, but still not perfect. The weekend before last I was down to two toilet trips a day, but since then I’m back up to maybe three, four, five times a day. This may be due to a reduction in my medication, or it may be because my diet is changing back to ‘normal’ (which is to say, I’m eating bread and bran cereal and drinking tea and coffee again). Or it may be due to stress reasserting itself; I had a pleasant, interesting day this last Saturday that was nevertheless quite stressful. I started writing a post about it and I should really get round to finishing it.

I ordered some books the week before last. From the Seoul English-language new and used shop, What the Book? I ordered the third book in R Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing, The Thousandfold Thought and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Just had an e-mail to say the order’s shipped and should be delivered in 24-48 hours. (On Saturday I went ahead and bought Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from Libro Books in Seoul.) I also ordered a copy of Iain Banks’s new book, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, from an e-Bay shop. Most of the sellers I’d previously contacted about this novel refused to post it to South Korea (mainly, I suspect, because they couldn’t be bothered finding out the shipping costs). Then I got a positive response from someone who was selling a trade paperback copy – so I ordered it from someone else – on the basis that I prefer to have a hardback. It ought to arrive this week, too – we’ll just have to see whether it actually gets here.

At the hagwon I have some work to do. In addition to my teaching … Sorry, let me type that again: In addition to my ‘teaching’. We have an ‘International Day’ on Monday. The foreign teachers are to do up a classroom each with information about their home countries. So far I’ve been working on flags – hence my post on vexillology. The head teacher said the school could provide a decent flag – and she was a little confused when I asked for five, maybe six flags. I’ve settled for finding black and white outline versions that I’ll print out and colour in. Still a lot of work to do for the day, though.

It’s my birthday in less than two weeks. I’ll be going into Seoul on the Saturday (that day has cropped up an awful lot in this post) to meet my two gaming mates in the WFRP game to watch Spiderman 3 and go for a meal. The Hi Seoul Festival is just about to start, so maybe I’ll look into going to some event that may prove interesting.

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So during my recent illness my blog actually celebrated its first anniversary. It had all its friends round for a party and expected me to clear up the mess the following day. Maybe. The first post I made was on 31 March 2006, and you can read it here. As an inveterate anal retentive, I must say it really pleased me to look back and find that I’d written at least one entry during March 2007 – so the archive ‘widget’ shows an unbroken list of months from the blog’s inception.

Total blog views are now up beyond 6,500, although my best day remains 101 hits from way back whenever it was. Daily hits vary from 27 to 4 in the past month. I’m getting a fair number of referrals from the Korean Blog List. And finally, yesterday someone arrived at my blog after searching for ‘vomiting bathroom floor laxatives’ – which is a neat summation of one of my recent experiences.

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A letter from the Land

I recently posted a couple of questions to Stephen Donaldson’s Gradual Interview. The second hasn’t been answered yet, but he e-mailed me a reply to the first. Which was:

I realise this might come under the heading of RAFO, but my question is this: Will Thomas Covenant be a viewpoint character in Fatal Revenant?

My justification for wanting to know is that it’ll be frustrating hoping for and expecting something that might never happen, and the blurb-that-dare-not-speak-its-name that was released on Amazon.co.uk certainly implies that the book will be wholly focused on Linden. Plus, we’re going to find out soon enough anyway. <grin>

Ancilliary question: Will Jeremiah be a viewpoint character?

By the way, I enjoyed reading the first half of chapter one and am looking forward to the rest. I’m probably more excited about FR than I was about RotE.

His reply was:

I’m sorry. As you suspected, all of this falls “under the heading of RAFO”. I’m working hard to set you up (in the best possible sense), and I don’t want to risk anything that might let you skip ahead of me unnecessarily.

–Steve

Fair enough. The personal response explains why no other question on the subject has appeared on the GI. I suppose I’ll just have to wait until Fatal Revenant‘s release in October (by which time I should be back in the UK).

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Flour child

I recently watched an episode of Frasier on the internet. I so love Frasier, and this was the first time I’d seen it in a couple of years (or however long it’s been since the last episode) – plus it was one I hadn’t seen before.

Niles is getting broody and talks to Frasier about how he kind of wants children but isn’t sure. Frasier mentions something about high school children carrying around a sack of flour for a week, treating it like a child – a process that gives them an insight into parenting. Niles decides he’s going to do just that.

At one point, Niles comes into Frasier’s apartment with his sack of flour/baby and as he takes it out of its papoose we see that the sack is all charred. Niles explains that he was doing tai chi that morning and accidentally kicked the baby into his pond. Then he set the flour in front of the fire and left it to dry out. When someone makes a remark about how stupid that was, Niles retorts, ‘A real baby would start crying before it burst into flames.’

Then his alarm goes off and he sets the baby on the sofa for its nap. As he walks over to Frasier’s dining table he asks Marty to turn him if he starts fussing. Marty just says, ‘No.’ Niles explains that he’s roleplaying and Marty replies, ‘Why don’t you try playing the role of a sane person?’

The best Frasier scripts are just fantastic – sharp enough to draw blood … if they were physical objects … which I suppose they are, in paper form …

Speaking of which, I have a book of 15 Frasier scripts – I think it’s entitled 15 Frasier Scripts. One of the best lines therein is a stage direction that goes something like: ‘The blood drains from Frasier’s face (a really good actor could do this).’

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A couple of fishy jokes

Two birds on a perch. One of them says, ‘Can you smell fish?’

*

Two fish in a tank. One of them says, ‘Do you know how to drive this thing?’

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Long time, no write

It’s been a very down and up couple of months.

At the end of January, as it usually does, my irritable bowel syndrome flared up and got progressively worse. Although I’d been worried about this when I moved to South Korea, when I settled in, my guts calmed down into a nice one-toilet-trip-a-day kind of rhythm. Things were going well enough that mid-way through January, having come to the end of the supply I brought with me, I stopped taking my mebeverine tablets. (Mebeverine is an ‘anti-spasmodic’ that I was prescribed about two years ago after my only other serious flare-up. They seemed to have a good effect and I had been taking them ever since.)

I’m not entirely sure that stopping taking these pills led to the illness that followed. I feel it’s more likely to have been the usual seasonal stress: cold, dark weather and, more importantly, holiday depression. Anyway, as soon as I started needing multiple toilet trips per day, I resumed taking the pills. I got prescriptions from a doctor based near my hagwon. Having been used to getting enough to last a month or more in Britain, I was a little dismayed that he would only give me a couple of weeks’ worth. After the second prescription and my health had continued to deteriorate, I went back after one week and he referred me to another doctor – a gastro-intestinal specialist.

This second doctor (also very close to the hagwon. Both of these doctors spoke passable, but by no means brilliant English) gave me about five, maybe seven (and a half) pills and a gel to take three times a day. None of which seemed to help much. I was getting weaker and weaker, my intestines were getting sore and I was spending stupid amounts of time on the toilet.

At the beginning of March I began a new schedule at the school – one that saw me drop the morning kindergarten classes and just teach in the afternoons and evenings. However, I was spending every five minute break between classes in the bathroom, and even then I sometimes needed to leave a class halfway through. So I spoke to the head teacher and told her I needed some sick leave. I hoped that the rest would do me some good.

Actually, it didn’t. A day or two after I got my second batch of medicine from the second doctor, the head teacher and the hagwon’s director took me to another doctor in Jungang, central Ansan. Here I was prescribed yet more pill. And they didn’t do that much either. By this time my appetite was very low and I could hardly bare to eat the kinds of things that had previously been my staples: bran cereal, bread, noodles. I even (shock, horror) went off tea.

I had a total of eight days off work, and by the end of the second week the head teacher told me that if I could come in next week she’d have to hire someone else. I don’t really see why they couldn’t have taken on a Korean teacher temporarily to replace me, but I had no option but to agree to try. (I suppose I could have quit and looked for another job later on, but that just promised far too much complication and stress.)

So when I went into to work the following Monday (still going to the toilet every break) I was continually asked by my students, ‘Are you sick, teacher?’ To which I would wearily reply, ‘Yes, I’m sick.’ Of course, that week was report-writing week, so I had to write evaluations for students I’d met once or twice. There was a greater than usual reliance on empty phrases such as ‘Jane is a pleasant student,’ or ‘John has a reasonable level of English.’

On Thursday of that week I went back to the doctor’s for a colonoscopy. On the Wednesday night I had to take half a small bottle of laxative. Which tasted vile. Then I had to drink at least two litres of water. As soon as the laxative kicked in I realised there wasn’t much point doing anything but sitting on the toilet. So I sat there with a book and a bottle of water with liquid gushing out of me every few minutes. Oh, what fun. Then I had to repeat the process at five o’clock the following morning. After about half an hour of the second laxative session I was sick. At first, I was just vomiting water on to the bathroom floor, but then the laxative started coming back up.

Anyway, the director’s husband took me to the surgery, where I was given a pair of comedy pyjama pants with a hole and flap at the back, curled up on a bed and connected to a drip. The nurses took a blood sample then injected me with a white fluid. The doctor put a dab of lubricant in my anus and then I was left alone thinking, Well, this anaesthetic isn’t having much effect. Then I fell asleep.

When I woke up it was apparently all over. For some reason, the director’s husband wanted to watch me get dressed, but I made it clear I’d prefer him on the other side of the curtain. I probably could have found some toilet roll on the shelves, but I wasn’t feeling too sharp and ended up wiping my arse on the pyjama bottoms. When I went into the doctor’s office (actually, there are two doctors at this surgery (or hospital, as Koreans inexplicably call it): the first one speaks very good English and is a kind of jolly, rather rotund fellow who specialises in cardiology; the second one is the intestinal doctor, but his English is merely kenchanayo (‘passable’, ‘OK’). I was now seeing the latter) he had pictures of my lower intestine on his computer. Even to my untrained eye it didn’t look very healthy – lots of red rather than the pink one might expect. He diagnosed ulcerated colitis (basically, inflammation and ulcers all along my lower intestine. He also mentioned that a biopsy might change this to Crohn’s disease. The biopsy proved negative) and said I should begin a course of steroids.

On the way out, the first doctor spoke to me and reassured me that the steroids would do the job. He also went on at some length about how ulcerated colitis is a Western disease and its not at all common in Korea. After that it was downstairs to the chemist to pick up my new medicine: 12 steroid pills to be taken after breakfast and three other tablets to be taken three times a day.

The following day, I took my first dose of steroids and, after an hour or two when I was still using the toilet very frequently, by bowels went to sleep for about six hours. Success! you might think. Well, yes, but it was also rather disturbing. After a few hours I started thinking I was going to explode any minute. By the end of the working day I was making trips to the bathroom again, but the effect of the medication was impressive.

Since then, there has been a slow – sometimes imperceptibly so – improvement. Up until last weekend, anyway, when there was another noticeable positive change. Today I don’t really need to worry about needing the toilet during the day, and just go a few times during the late evening, night and first thing in the morning. A lot of people have commented on how much better I look now, and several have commented on how pale and albino-like I looked at the height of the illness.

I’m still building my energy up to pre-shits-city levels; for instance, going up stairs two at a time is more difficult than it ought to be. I’ve also lost weight – mainly muscle, as I don’t really have that much fat on my body at the best of times. Having spent the past year and a half doing excerises to improve my upper body strength (for which read ‘appearance’), much of that has now melted away. But at least I’ve started doing five minutes with my dumbells twice a day in the past week. I suppose the steroids might help get some of that muscle back.

So the prognosis is good. At this rate, I should be back to normal by the summer. Which reminds me, I have another colonoscopy to look forward to in June. The doctor also said I should have one once a year to check for cancer, as ulcerated colitis doesn’t help on that front. Which leads me on to another point. When I made the appointment for the first colonoscopy, it was pretty much a case of, ‘When do you want to come in?’ ‘How about tomorrow?’ ‘Fine.’ It cost nearly 85,000 won – about £45.

On the NHS, while it might be free, it would take ages to get an appointment – I’ve read a couple of articles on the BBC News site in the past couple of weeks saying as much. When I had my bowel X-ray nearly two years ago, the doctor said that it was normal apart from a suggestion of burnt-out colitis. Ergo, I was stuck with the diagnosis from, what? five, six seven years ago of IBS. I wonder what would have happened if I’d had that X-ray (and the sigmoidoscopy I had just beforehand) at the height of my illness two years ago. Would I have been diagnosed with UC then? Would I have developed it now? Instead, these examinations took place after the fact and didn’t shed a whole lot of light.

To conclude, I’m feeling a lot more positive about the immediate future, and I’m happy that I’ve now got a diagnosis that seems more solid (IBS being rather vague). But I’m also worried about my future plans: I want to travel with the money I’ll have saved at the end of my contract, and this illness, if it reoccurs, could cause me further problems – not helpful in strange lands.

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