Archive for April, 2008

King of the castle

On Friday, I had an interview with the head foreign teacher, Jonathan, a Canadian, of a hagwon in Nowon, north Seoul. It seemed to go reasonably well. I didn’t know I was due to have one, although I thought I might.

I’d been due to have interviews the previous day, but one way or another they didn’t pan out. The e-mail from Mi Young, the Korean fiancée of my American friend had mentioned a couple of times, and mentioned Korean time. I managed to misunderstand this and expected calls at the wrong time of day. An e-mail later on told me I’d apparently got angry with the interviewers when they called. Even though I was in bed at the time.

So I thought that the call I got on Friday was one of those people calling back. But it was for a completely different hagwon. I found out they were based in Nowon, but I felt silly asking for the hagwon’s name – so I didn’t. An e-mail from Peter told me that Mi Young hadn’t been able to tell me about this interview beforetime.

Anyway, during the interview I asked Jonathan for and got a couple of e-mail addresses of other foreign teachers at the hagwon. After a message from Peter indicating that they’d offered me the job, I sent the same e-mail to both contacts asking about the management, working conditions and so on. I had a response from one, Todd, and American on his second contract, and finally discovered the hagwon’s name – E-Castle. He also gave a positive account of the school.

I’ve searched for references to E-Castle, but found nothing that seems relevant (it does, though, appear to be the name of an electronics company). I had further e-mails from Mi Young today – one of which was supposed to have a contract attached – but didn’t.

In the meantime, I’ve also registered with a couple of other websites/recruiters (well, one of each, I suppose). I had a total of 14 e-mails in my ‘official business’ e-mail inbox today. Most of them related to MyESLJob.com and ignorable.

So the E-Castle job is the only definite thing on the table, and, as there seems nothing wrong with it so far (apart from the fact that I can’t find any information about it on the internet) there’s a good chance this’ll be the one I plump for. Adventure Teaching has sent me a list of positions, but none of them are any better than this one.

I don’t feel entirely comfortable about accepting it, but only for pretty trivial reasons: this is the first offer I’ve had, so there might be better ones waiting; in terms of the hagwon’s size and location it sounds very similar to my previous job and I was thinking something a little different (either a larger hagwon, or maybe a public school job) would be more tempting; and finally accepting any job offer, and thus setting the course of your life for the next year, is a nervy experience.

Parallel to all this is the story of my notarised and apostilled police check letter. It didn’t arrive on Friday, nor during the day on Monday. I rang the notary at about 4:45 yesterday and he told me to see if it arrived the following morning. But it didn’t – because it arrived on Monday evening at about 8:30. I called him back this morning and he seemed surprised – he was under the impression that the Secure DX postal system only delivered during office hours.

The apostille is a sheet a little bigger than A5 glued to the back of the letter. At first I was concerned that it hadn’t been filled out completely, but having looked at pictures on the internet, that seems normal. So anyway, I now have all the documents I need for the visa process … well, no I don’t actually – I need some passport photos (and now I have a beard – darn) and a contract.

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Review of In Bruges

In BrugesFirst off, if you haven’t seen In Bruges and aren’t planning to – you should. It’s not without its flaws, but it is very, very good. I liked it, anyway.

The film struck more than anything as a cross between Father Ted and … well, insert the title of some fairly brutal crime film here … let’s say Reservoir Dogs as I can’t think of anything else right now. Brendan Gleeson’s character is Ted, Colin Farrell is Dougal, and Ralph Fiennes is Bishop Brennan. Kind of, anway.

It’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it’s certainly dryly, blackly humorous (in the funny parts, anyway) and is full quirky dialogue, dialogue that’s often verbose and repetitive but delivered in a quick-talking deadpan. A bit like this:

Ray: Look, Ken. I grew up in Dublin, and I love Dublin. If I had grown up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.

Or this:

Ken: Harry, let’s face it. You’re a cunt. You’ve always been a cunt. The only thing that’s gonna change, is that you’re gonna be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.

Harry: You fuckin’ retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids

Ken: I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.

Harry: Insulting my fucking kids? That’s goin’ overboard man!

Ken: I retracted it, didn’t I?

It’s got just a tiny bit of swearing in it too.

The two main characters are hitmen who have been sent on a trip to Bruges in the aftermath of a job. It’s starts off quite jolly, Dougal/Farrell (‘Ray’) constantly pissed off at being there at all, Ted/Gleeson (‘Ken’) trying to make the best of an odd situation. Although we know that they’ve killed someone, it seems quite lighthearted; Farrell plays up the childish aspects of his character – perhaps a little too much. Then, in a flashback, the truth about their situation is revealed – and it’s pretty horrible.

So the fillum is – ostensibly, anyway (and anyway, how many times can I use the word ‘anyway’ in this review?) … ostensibly – about guilt and redemption. While the characters talk about these things, I don’t think the story itself deals with such issues in any great depth … perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the protagonist’s redemption is beyond the story’s remit: there are some large, dark blanks to be filled in when the credits roll. Anyway, the plot gradually gets more contrived and the climax is ironic in a very heavy-handed way.

Despite these problems, In Bruges is a very likeable, occasionally very moving film – it made me nearly cry more than once (not actually cry – I’m not a girl). Anyway – anyway, anyway, anyway – I think you’ll enjoy it.


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As my appointment with the notary public was at eleven, I had to get up much earlier than normal today. I’d considered getting the ten to nine train to Manchester, but in the event that was just silly. Half-way to the station I realised that, in concentrating on getting there on time and making sure I had my documents – police letter, passport and credit card statement – I’d forgotten the map I’d printed out about six hours earlier and the notary’s phone number.

I didn’t have time to go back and get it (not without running the whole way), but I knew the address and had a fair idea where it was – not far from the Arndale Centre. I strode along Market Street, turned right at Brown Street (discovering a branch of one of my favourite shops – Fopp – on the right) passed the service entrance to the relevant building, Pall Mall Court, turned right on to King Street and there I was.

Once in the building I scanned the list of companies and saw no sign of Aaron and Partners; the reception guard directed me to their offices – where there appeared to be no sign of the firm’s name. After waiting in reception for a few minutes (Sky News was on a plasma screen and I realised I’d forgotten to watch the coverage or even check the result of the Pennsylvania primary), the notary, one Colin Rowe (as opposed to multiple … oh, wait – I did that joke in my previous post) took me to his office.

He was a quiet, pleasant, middle-aged man (much like my personal stereotype of a civil servant), and he set about the brief process of notarising my letter. At one point he went to photocopy my documents and when he came back he showed me the copies of the police letter – they were emblazoned with


all across the page. I think he intended to notarise one of the copies, but of course, that wasn’t going to work.

He suggested that there probably weren’t many notaries in Whaley Bridge and I told him about the notary I’d contacted first and how they wanted £150 for faxing the signatory. He said that the letter was self-approbative, the watermark and blue bands proving its authenticity. I’m even more suspicious of that other solicitor’s office now.

As I predicted, the bill was £105.50. I gave him six twenties (I’d asked the cash machine for £150, but it didn’t like that), and, once he’d found someone to give him change, he gave me back £15. Which was nice. The letter should be apostilled (or apostillised, I’m not sure which) tomorrow and returned to me by special lawyer’s post on Friday, or maybe Monday.

In related news, it looks like I have an interview or two with hagwons in north-east Seoul tomorrow afternoon. One of them is a branch of the same place I worked for in Ansan, which strikes me as a little ominous – although limited details I was given showed that it was a marginally better deal than the other one.

So I may have a job very soon, but it’s likely to still be over a month before I get to Korea.

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The solicitor’s office in the nearby village got back to me this morning to say that they hadn’t been able to contact by phone the person who signed my letter of no criminal recordness (one Malcolm Hubbard – as opposed to multiple Malcolm Hubbards). Instead they proposed faxing them – and this would boost the cost of notarisation to £150.


When the rather grumpy secretary asked if this was OK, I said I’d call back later.

I’ve contacted a couple of notaries public in Manchester and now have an appointment for tomorrow morning with Aaron and Partners. While I hate using the phone to make enquiries and arrangements, the process was much more auspicious: people were a lot friendlier and I spoke to the notaries themselves; best of all, there was no talk of checking the validity of my letter first (which, frankly, seemed a rather suspicious requirement from the local notary).

Cost-wise, it’ll break down like this: £60 (I’m pretty sure it was £60 – the person I spoke to first at A&P said £60-80) for the notarisation, £27 for the apostille (which I’d have to pay for anyway) and £18.50 for an agent to get the apostille for me (making it cheaper and about as fast as getting it myself later this week). Total cost: £105.50. Probably. Certainly a lot better than £150 for just the notarisation.

I then called the grumpy woman to let her know their services wouldn’t be needed after all.

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Jokertown ShuffleThis, the ninth Wild Cards book, continues the story begun in One-Eyed Jacks, and it works a lot better, although still not as well as earlier volumes.

The main problem (as it was with book eight) is the structure: short stories worked perfectly for the original Wild Cards book because each story showed one episode from the 30 or 40 years of the Wild Cards virus’s existence; here, though, it makes the narrative disjointed. For instance, Archer, one of the main characters of the overall series, has his climactic final showdown with his arch enemy in the very first complete story of Jokertown Shuffle.

On the plus side, there are two stories split into numerous parts and distributed throughout the book. These are the stories dealing with the core of the plot – the development of the joker/jumper base on Ellis Island, and the conflict between Dr Tachyon and his malevolent grandchild, Blaise. Also falling into this category is the two-part ‘While Night’s Black Agents to Their Preys Do Rouse’ about Black Shadow, an ace who has barely performed on the Wild Cards stage up until now. Quite Batmanish, ‘Shad’ is probably the book’s strongest character.

One minor innovation in the book is that the nine-part story ‘The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat’ is written in the first person. I don’t think this has been done before in the Wild Cards books. It works reasonably well, given that Bloat can read the minds of everyone within about a mile (some of these overheard thoughts are presented in three columns, suggesting their simultaneity). The first part – which opens the book – suggests that Bloat is keeping a journal of his thoughts – the events he recounts come with the benefit of hindsight; this effect isn’t kept up very consistently in the later parts.

On the whole, a reasonable effort. I’ve already started on book ten, Double Solitaire.

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‘I am not a crook’

On Wednesday I had e-mails from both contacts looking for teaching jobs for me. Over a month ago I’d told them both that my criminal background check would arrive by mid-April. On Wednesday, it hadn’t. And I had the feeling that it wouldn’t be here within the police’s deadline for processing it; in fact, I suspected I’d ring up on Monday to find out when I could expect it and learn that it may well take a lot longer.

Well, today it arrived – just within the deadline.

So now I’m waiting to hear from the solicitor’s that filled in the on-line form for and didn’t hear from. If you see what I mean. I rang them today, and they wanted me to let them see the document for notarisation first; I’ve e-mailed a photo, and am now waiting for them to call. The notarisation will cost £80 – which seems pretty pricey, but I suppose that’s the legal profession for you.

Yesterday, the Korean fiancée of the American guy I know over there sent me details of a job teaching primary children from 12:30 to 6pm for 2.3 million won. Although that seems like really good hours (not much ‘seems’ about it, in fact), I turned it down on the basis that it was in Gimpo, another Seoul satellite city, and one of the main things I want from my job is that it should be in Seoul rather than nearby. I’m also not too keen on teaching elementary school students – at least not exclusively.

I had a couple of potential jobs from my other contact, the Canadian agency, which I turned down because they were also not in Seoul proper. And also because I didn’t have the police check – can’t use that excuse anymore.

I probably ought get in touch with other agencies and see if I can find more (or indeed, any) opportunities in Seoul. I have a feeling I’m going to be compromising on something when I decide on a job. But then, my feelings have proved to be erroneous in the recent past.

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I’ve added a new page to my beautiful web log: Book Reviews. As you might be able to deduce from the cryptic title, it brings together links to all the book reviews I’ve posted in the last two years.

There are fifty authors represented in the list (more, actually, taking co-authorship into account), from Adichie (as in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of Purple Hibiscus moderate well-knownness) to Vegdahl (as in Sonia Vegdahl of CultureShock Korea obscurity. I had thought Carlos Ruiz Zafón would be at the bottom, but it turns out Ruiz is a surname (meaning ‘son of Ruy’)).

The list reminded very much of something I’d heard on the news many years ago, namely that people whose names begin with letters in the first half of the alphabet are more successful than those with otherwise-initialled monikers. Of those fifty authors, thirty-seven are in the A-M category, including five As, five Bs and five Cs.

Damnit, I think this means Obama isn’t going to be President – although Nick Clegg could become Prime Minister.

(Yeah, right.)

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One-Eyed Jacks coverUnusually, Martin isn’t credited as an author of any part of this, book eight of the Wild Cards series. Also, the book takes the form of linked short stories, much like the very first volume, instead of a ‘mosaic novel’, like most of the other books. I think it suffers a little on both counts.

More than anything, this book doesn’t feel like a complete story. In fact, it is the first of a kind of internal trilogy about the threat of Jumpers – a gang of hoodlums who have been granted the ability to exchange their consciousness for that of a victim (who usually gets knocked out (in the body of the Jumper) in the process). Each story tells a small part of the overall narrative, but no one provides the whole picture.

The one consistent thread is a story split into a number of short parts which alternate with the other stories. Jerry is a former giant ape and now a secret shapeshifting ace. He begins a rather inept investigation, which, along with events in the other stories, establishes the potential threat of the Jumpers. I say potential threat because, as a group, they don’t really do anything. One-Eyed Jacks seems to be very much a prologue to what I hope will be a much more interesting story in books nine and ten.

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Cat who says ‘Ni’

humorous pictures
see more crazy cat pics

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Numismatics. Oldmismatics

While I’m a bit of a news junky, it’s not often that something in the news surprises me. Today saw the unveiling of the new designs for UK coins (except the £2 coin). Despite the fact that the competition to find the new designs was launched in 2005 I had no idea that such moves were afoot (or a-hand or a-any other body part).

I like these new reverses, though. The penny through 50p piece show details from the Shield Royal of Arms, while the pound coin shows the Shield in its entirety. They look like this:


as opposed to the previous Emblems of Britain designs which look like this:

Emblems of Britain Coins

The concept of the new design is an interesting and pretty groovy idea, but individually they’re likely to seem rather odd. The old designs – like every other coin in the history of coinage – were self-contained; each of the new coins refers to and can only be appreciated in relation to the others. You might even say these are post-modern coins.

According to the Royal Mint website for the new coins, the reason for the change is simply that there hasn’t been a change of design recently – since decimalisation in 1971, in fact. This seems a rather weak excuse for such a radical overhaul – and isn’t entirely true, as our coins have been evolving continuously throughout the subsequent period.

For my non-British listeners, there now follows a synopsis of modern UK coins (and the Brits among you might learn a thing or two, as well).

1966 Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announces the end of Imperial currency.

1968 5p and 10p pieces are released to circulate as shilling and two-shilling coins, whose dimensions they mirror.

1969 50p piece – the world’s first equilateral curved heptagonal coin – is issued.

1971 ½p, 1p and 2p coins are issued on 15 February, marking the advent of decimalisation.

1982 20p piece – another equilateral curved heptagon – is introduced. The word ‘NEW’ on coin designs is replaced with the value of the coin (ie, ‘NEW PENNY’ becomes ‘ONE PENNY’).

1983 £1 coin is issued; the pound note is withdrawn the following year.

1984 ½p is withdrawn.

1990 New 5p piece, smaller than its predecessor, is introduced.

1992 New, smaller 10p coin enters circulation.

1997 New, smaller 50p piece replaces its older incarnation. The bi-metallic £2 coin is minted, but does not enter circulation until the following year.

2008 New designs, based on the Shield of Royal Arms enter circulation.

As I said, I like the new designs, but I also like the old ones (apart from having the face of a hereditary head of state on it – but that isn’t changing, and is a different issue, besides). I’m a little torn between the instinct for change and the instinct for conservation, but at least it’ll give me new things to collect.

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