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Archive for February, 2009

We had a new master start at the taekwondojang this week, Yoon Sabeomnim. Kim Sabeomnim, the guy he replaces, has left to start a brief new job; brief because he’s going to Australia for a year and a half in April (when we talked about it last Friday at first he said he was going to Austria). Master Yoon isn’t as friendly as his predecessor, nor does he have much English. As a consequence he hasn’t helped me much with my technique. On the other hand, this week there has suddenly been an influx of students – many of the students I saw last year have returned to my class, so Master Yoon’s attention is necessarily divided. In other news, I get tested for my blue belt next Friday.

There’s a change of staffing coming up at work as well. Botond was told a few weeks ago that his contract wouldn’t be renewed. Apparently, his replacement started work today; I don’t work Saturdays (muah-ha-ha-hah) so I haven’t met him/her/it. I’m sorry to see Bo go, but at least he’s found a new job without too much trouble. He’s teaching kindergarteners from mid-March. Rather him than me.

We’ve had some typical Korean retardedness with our work schedule recently. After four weeks teaching a morning/early afternoon timetable in January we went back to a late afternoon/evening routine for two weeks, and last week we returned to the early schedule for another fortnight. Although we, or at least I, taught mostly the same classes for the middle fortnight, there were some changes. As a result, I taught a few classes for only two weeks out of the latter two months of this semester.

My contract states that I have ten days paid leave a year, half in summer, half in winter. But I found out yesterday that there is no winter vacation planned at work. Fucking typical. I need to speak to the director’s brother next week. (He works as a teacher; she, on the other hand, doesn’t work much at all, especially now that she has a new baby.) While I’m at it I should try to get a definite yes or no on the renewal of my contract, which is up in June.

I’ve been downloading a lot of comedy recently – a load of great stuff from the last fifteen years: The Fast Show, The Day Today, Father Ted, Brass Eye, Jam, Man Stroke Woman, Monkey Dust, Ideal. I’m looking forward to sharing them with Bo and Travis. I really ought to buy some of these when I next spend some time back in Britain.

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Earl Hickey on My Name is Earl, season 4, episode 17, ‘Randy’s List Item’.

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Exchange rate watch

1 GBP = 2,000.1 KRW
1 GBP = 1.1096 EUR
1 GBP = 1.4237 USD

2,300,000 KRW = 1,149.47583 GBP

Bonus Exchange Rate

1 GBP = 332.28 Hungarian forints (HUF)

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Jo Brand on QI, F series, episode 7.

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Taking the skis

I went skiing for the first time on Sunday, with Botond and So-young and their friend Seol-Hee, who drove us to the resort.

On Friday night I didn’t get much sleep, partly because of the new late schedule at work and partly because I had to get up early to go to Korean class. The class itself wasn’t too hot – mostly review stuff; I only noted down two or three new vocabulary or grammar items on my notepad.

(By the way, the title of this post refers to the Korean for the verb to ski: there is no Korean word for this verb, instead you have to say ‘스키를 타다’ (‘seukireul tada’) – ‘to take skis’. ‘타다’ (‘tada’) – ‘to take’ – is the verb used for any form of transportation – car, subway, aeroplane, horse, skis etc.)

Later in the day I met Bo and Travis to play pool in Nowon and then go drinking in Itaewon. This night out was supposed to be an E-Castle thing, but the Korean teachers weren’t interested – to my non-surprise and slight relief. We visited several places: first, dinner at a Mexican restaurant, then Gecko’s, the Wolfhound, then there was a pause as we tried to find somewhere that either had a football table or was a ‘meat market’. We finished the night in Woodstock – which was my favourite place as it was almost empty – and therefore quiet – and played some decent music.

After about an hour’s sleep once I got home it was time to get up to meet Bo and So-young to go and meet Seol-Hee. I was feeling a tiny bit hungover, but nothing serious: I hadn’t been able to quite finish my bowl of cereal that morning, for instance. We met Seol-Hee outside her building and proceeded out of the city. The drive was about an hour or so, but with a heavy mist shrouding the landscape there wasn’t much to see out of the window.

You could tell when you were approaching the ski resort – Jisan – because of the number of skiing and snowboarding equipment shops along the road. We rented our own stuff from one of these places.

After a meal at the resort’s food court Bo took me outside to start my training. I’d snowboarded once before, two years ago, with other English teachers from Ansan – and I wasn’t very good at it – but had never skied (although I have a dim memory of a day at a ski slope in Runcorn when I was in the Scouts – but it could be imaginary). I was hoping that skiing would be easier than snowboarding.

First Time Skiing
And it was. Bo’s tuition helped a lot – in fact he was very good in this role. After a frankly kind of scary first half an hour or so up on the slopes, where I felt completely out of my depth, I suddenly started getting the hang of it. After my first awkward couple of descents I was able to go down without going arse over tit once – although I was employing a cautious, snow-plough-heavy technique. Later, as I tried to overcome my natural cowardice and go fast, and as I was getting tired, I started falling down more.

Botond, Seol-Hee, So-young, Captain Maybe

The sense of control over direction and speed was quite pleasing – especially so bearing my snowboarding experience in mind, where I felt like I only had two choices: go, and fall over.

It was hard work, both physically and, if you like, psychically, but certainly rewarding. Afterward, with my minimal sleep during the previous two days, I was fairly knackered.

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Last night at taekwondo there were two brand new students in the class along with me and the two master. The new students were young women – in their early twenties – wearing straight-out-of-the-bag dobok (uniforms), complete with creases, and white belts. It was a little strange to be the senior student, not just in terms of age but in experience too.

I arrived late because of work, did a few warm up exercises by myself, then joined in with a bit of punching practice. Then we did some simple kicking exercises. The new girls, having started the class earlier, finished earlier than me and went home. I carried on with some further kicking exercises – like a front-roundhouse-side kick combination that I’d done once before. I also practised taegeuk 1-jang and 2-jang – apparently, I will be tested for blue belt at the end of the month.

At the end of my training, I spent a few minutes talking to I Sabeomnim. She told me the new students had told her on a snowboarding trip together that they thought taekwondo was easy. I suggested we do sparring next lesson. I also asked whether she thought the new girls would be interested in English lessons. She said one of them was studying English at university, and she would ask her.

The new schedule at work is basically the same as the morning schedule we were doing in January, but starting at 4pm instead of 9am. Except that there is one class of kindergarteners (I think – they’re very young, anyway) that starts at 2:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday – and I have to teach them. Yesterday, I arrived at work at two o’clock and the fifth floor where the staff room is was closed, so I had to get a key from the admin staff on the fourth floor.

I’m starting what will hopefully be a habit of giving students detention for being noisy in class. This will take the form of lines: ‘I will be quiet in class’ x 50 or 100 or whatever I deem appropriate. I gave a few such detentions yesterday and, unfortunately, the students in question were fairly blasé about it. Little bastards.

On a positive note, I have a few more of the older classes now – consisting of older middle school students. These classes can be pretty painful because the students are very quiet – but they can also be quite relaxing compared to a class full of rowdy elementary school students. And – a lot of these older students are girls – which is nice; they seem to respond well to me – even if that just means giggling.

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I left home today to go to Itaewon and Yongsan – the former to possibly buy a new coat, the latter to possibly see a film. I ended up doing neither. As I was walking along the street – to the next busstop on from the one I usually use – I heard a crack at my shoulder. It sounded a bit like I’d been shat on by a bird, but it also sounded like maybe the buckle on the tie for my hood had been caught under the strap of my laptop case and had suddenly popped out.

I got on the bus, and my laptop case fell to the floor, the strap having become disconnected. The bit of metal that connected the strap to the bag had snapped – in two places, hence the crack that I’d heard a minute earlier.

I got off the bus with my bag under my arm and looked around for somewhere to obtain something to make repairs. The busstop for Sanggye Station is right in front of a small shopping centre called Daeho Plaza Shopping Town. I went in there instead of round the side as I usually do. I looked for a place that might sell cord or shoe laces. It was very quiet with most of the stands closed. Up on the second floor (by which I mean first floor) I noticed some used white plastic cord on an otherwise empty set of shelves – so I helped myself to it. In the toilets of the subway station I tied the now loose end of the strap to the strappy bit on the body of the case that the metal bit used to fasten to. If you see what I mean. It worked.

Then I went to Yongsan to buy a new case. Of course, my first port of call once at Yongsan was Starbucks, where, for the second time in a row and the second time ever, I managed to get a table – this time by putting my coat and laptop at an empty table and then ordering my caffe latte grande. I kept glancing in my table’s direction as I was waiting, even though it was hidden behind a corner. To be fair, this isn’t really necessary in Korea, but I’m not in the habit of ‘losing’ things when I’m out and about. With my drink at my hand, I went to work on a review of Dreamer of Dune. My computer seemed to have suffered no ill effects from its bump.

Then I bought a new laptop bag. The price tags at the stand all bore a Union Jack – the bags being made by ‘Michiko London’, whatever that is. It’s pretty stylish, but the old one that came with my Fujitsu machine (when I bought it at Yongsan at the end of my contract in 2007 – don’t you remember?) was a little more practical in some minor details. For instance the old one had a flap which covered the zip and most of the side, which protected it from rain (I believe), and all the pockets were on the outer side of the bag, ie, away from the body. Neither is true with the new one. It cost me ₩58,000.

I went to a toilet and transfered all my stuff from the old case to the new case, and put the old one in the carrier bag that came with the new one. Then I left Yongsan with the intention of going to Itaewon. Just after I crossed the road in front of I’Park –

the strap broke!

I’m sure there’s a name for it, but the strap has at each end some metal parts involving a loop and a lumpy bit. The lumpy bit should be inside the loop, allowing the end of the strap to swivel. Well, one of these bits came loose. I went back to the stand and showed the man, who then replaced the strap.

Then I went to Itaewon – where I didn’t buy a new coat, but instead went to Starbucks and did some more work on my short story. Unfortunately, the final scene that I’d thought might be easy turned out to be more problematic. As I’m at the end of the story, you could say that I’ve written up to X, I have a good idea of what Z is, but I’m not at all sure about Y.

I’ll hopefully do some more work on it tomorrow, having allowed the back end of my brain a night to cogitate on the matter. I also want to finally buy that new coat, too, and with the return of late starts at work I should have plenty of time (depending on what time I go to sleep and get up, of course).

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Dreamer of DuneDreamer of Dune is the biography of Frank Herbert by his ‘Number One Son’ and sometime collaborator Brian Herbert. Frank Herbert shouldn’t need any introduction, but he is, of course, author of, possibly the best and most famous science fiction novel, Dune, its five sequels, a number of other sf novels and short stories, and one straight fiction novel (Soul Catcher). Brian Herbert is also a science fiction novelist, and is probably best known for the range of Dune sequence prequels and sequels written with the hackish Kevin J Anderson.

In a way, this biography is a long string of anecdotes, spanning the whole of Frank Herbert’s life. Towards the beginning of the book, as details are scant and outside Brian Herbert’s lifetime, the anecdotes tend to be very short – one paragraph about this, one paragraph about that. Towards the end, the stories of Frank Herbert’s life gain the emotional colouring of Brian Herbert’s own experience of the events recounted – while still remaining quite short. There is a certain bittiness to this book, but I think this reflects the honesty of the author wanting to include as much relevant material as possible and not wanting to pad out the anecdotes with possibly fictionalised detail.

Frank Herbert was born in 1920 in Tacoma, Washington State. His father had numerous jobs and both his parents were alcoholics. This, combined with the Depression, meant that Frank’s childhood was marked by poverty and a lack of stability. Consequently, Frank, an intelligent, adventurous child, became very mature very quickly. Several of the most striking tales of his childhood concerned his many boating trips. As a young teenager – perhaps younger – he would go out by himself into the lakes and rivers and even out on to the Pacific. Frank would venture into shipping lanes and hitch his boat to the back of passing tugs, thus travelling hundreds of miles. At the age of fourteen, he and seventeen year old friend made a two thousand mile round trip to Alaska by themselves. Frank’s education came more from household duties (milking the cow, collecting firewood and so on), hunting trips with his father and uncles and his own independence than from attending school.

Children in town didn’t have to go to school on their birthdays. In October 1928, on the morning of his eighth birthday, Frank Herbert went downstairs to a breakfast of sourdough flapjacks and real maple syrup, favorites of his that had been prepared specially for him by his mother and paternal grandmother. After the breakfast dishes were cleared away, he climbed on top of the table and announced to his family, in a very determined tone, “I wanna be a author.”

That morning he wrote his first story, entitled “Adventures in Darkest Africa,” which he read to his family. Crayon drawings accompanied it.

Frank Herbert married and had a baby girl shortly before joining the navy in 1942. His wife filed for divorce while he was away at sea the following year. Subsequently, he had an accident and was discharged without having seen combat.

He wrote on and off for much of his early life, but quite often other things got in the way. He remarried, this time to Brian Herbert’s mother, Beverly, worked for newspapers and for politicians seeking election (none of them succeeded). Frank Herbert and his own family moved around a lot, never settling in one place; they even spent two periods living in Mexico (one of these times, they drove there in a hearse) for the purpose of allowing Frank the time and space to write – a plan that never fully worked out (at least in terms of making a living as a writer).

Brian Herbert is quite honest about the negative aspects of his father’s personality. Whilst being an outgoing, intelligent, jovial man, always ready to hold court and tell stories and jokes and expound his opinions, Frank Herbert had no patience for children. He demanded absolute quiet when he was writing, and expected his two sons from his marriage with Beverly to do exactly as they were instructed. Brian Herbert reports that he was an intimidating figure – and he even used a lie detector on his children.

In his early writing career Frank Herbert published a few short stories, but never on a regular basis – either because he was pursuing other interests or simply because the stories he wrote weren’t accepted. His first novel, The Dragon in the Sea (also entitled Under Pressure for its serialisation – and 21st Century Sub as a paperback) was published in 1956. As Brian Herbert points out, this story prefigures some of the themes in Dune, especially the idea of a precious and scarce commodity (in this novel it’s oil, in Dune it’s both the spice melange and water).

Despite this success, Frank Herbert would not begin to make it as a writer for another decade. His family lived on the edge for much of this period. Frank Herbert had a practice of signing up for as many mailing lists as possible, then using the resulting deluge of junk mail as fuel for heating. This practice was rethought when, later on, he accidentally burnt a royalty cheque. One of his journalistic tasks took him to a project to halt desertification by planting poverty grasses. This was one of a number of threads that, over several years, were weaved into the story that became Dune. Another was the idea of dangerous heroes – Frank Herbert disliked John F Kennedy because of the cult of personality he had engendered.

Even when Dune was eventually written and published in 1965, it took several years for it to take off and starting earning enough money for the Herberts that Frank could finally become a full-time writer – well into his forties. The success of Dune and its sequels snowballed over the following two decades, such that many of the Dune sequence books set new records for advances and sales, as did some of the other major Frank Herbert novels, such as The Dosadi Experiment and The White Plague.

Despite their financial success, the Herberts still had money problems – Frank and Beverly were impulsive buyers, always purchasing new things by mail order. They finally bought a house to settle down in in Washington State, and Frank Herbert used the property to start constructing ‘EDPs’ – Environmental Demonstration Projects, such as wind and solar power generation. In some ways, although I don’t doubt Frank Herbert had many ideas he wanted to explore in the Dune universe, the continual production of sequels to that seminal novel were a way of financing his increasingly expensive lifestyle.

In the 1970s, Frank Herbert’s wife, Beverly, developed inoperable lung cancer. The subsequent radiotherapy damaged her heart, however, and, while she survived the lung cancer, she was left greatly weakened, and she died in 1984. Beverly’s long, drawn-out illness and death were a huge blow to Frank Herbert. Throughout their marriage, the two were as affectionate for each as honeymooners and were dependent on each other in many ways. Although he married again, Frank Herbert died two years after his wife – not of the cancer which had been afflicting him at the time, but of a pulmonary embolism.

Brian Herbert’s simplicity and honesty in describing the latter part of his father’s life make it a moving read. The overwhelming impression is of the reliance of Frank on Beverly and vice versa and that without one, the other is nothing. Frank Herbert survived only just long enough to fulfil a number of promises to his second wife – including finishing the sixth Dune book, finishing the novel he and Brian co-wrote, Man of Two Worlds, and even remarrying. If Beverly had not died, Frank would not have died, and science fiction readers would have had more great novels to savour.

So, Dreamer of Dune is a consistently fascinating and readable account of the life of one of science fiction’s most important authors. The fact that it is written by his son gives it an added emotional dimension and it’s a worthwhile read for anyone remotely interested in Dune.

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