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Archive for August, 2009

London

When I arrived on Sunday, I took the Piccadilly line from Heathrow Terminal 5 into central London. Firstly, I was glad that my nearly four-year-old Oyster card still works. Secondly, I was really surprised at the size of the Tube carriages – compared to the Seoul metro, they’re tiny. But the seats are a little bigger.

Once I got to my hostel on Sunday I found out that I couldn’t actually check in until 2pm – which meant that I had a few hours to kill before I could have a shower and a much needed change of clothes. I left my (Habiba’s) backpack in the luggage room and went for a walk.

Secret Intelligence Service Building

The walk took me from Pimlico along the Thames towards Parliament, the London and and the South Bank Centre. I took a few photos. The weather was of the type sometimes described as ‘glorious’. I sweated in my day-old clothes.

The Palace of Westminster

One of the funny things about spending time in London is how, because of the number well-known people you pass on the street, you start doing double-takes because that person over there looks vaguely familiar. I saw two or three famous people On Sunday. Firstly, I saw Liam Fox being interviewed in Victoria Park.

The London Eye

I walked around a lot. Stopped for regular cups of tea. Read. Went back to the hostel for a shower and change of clothes, then did more of the same.

Channel Four Building

In the evening, I went to an Indian restaurant near the hostel and had a chicken korai. The food was pretty decent. As I was finishing, a group of four people came in and were greeted enthusiastically by the staff. One of the customers was Nasser Hussain, another was an older cricket personality whose name escapes me. The manager and the waiters chatted with them and took photos. Meanwhile, I spent more time waiting for my bill than I did waiting for my meal.

Buckingham Palace

Afterwards I went back to the hostel, the Astor Victoria. I realised at some point that it was the same hostel I’d spent just one night at a year or two ago when my sleep was interrupted by some Croatian fans celebrating their national team’s ejection of England from Euro qualification (if I recall correctly). This time I was almost at the top of the building on the fourth floor (that’s the ‘fifth’ floor for any Americanoids reading this) in a six bed dorm with five Germans.

Stables Yard at Camden Market

On Monday, I did more walking tea-drinking and reading (although I’m tiring a little of Titus Groan). I also went up to Camden Market for a look round. It’s changed a fair bit since the last time I was there – before the fire last year. There are lots of horse sculptures – because its housed in former stables – and lots of litter bins. I bought Habiba a gift (the nature of which I won’t divulge here). I’d like to be able to take her there some time – it’s the kind of trendy bohemian place I think she’d love. Even I kind of like it.

Dominion Theatre and Centre Point Building

Later on, I met my friend Drew for dinner – we went to a Korean restaurant and had dolsot bibimbap: stone pot mixed rice. Our other friend Colin – we all roleplayed together when I lived in London – couldn’t make it; he has a brand new baby to look after, so I’ll let him off. It was really good to see Drew. We talked about our lives since we last saw each other, what – a year and a half or more ago. Drew’s an immensely nice guy – his humour and enthusiasm make him lots of fun to hang out with. I miss roleplaying with him, Colin and Pete.

When I arrived in London, I didn’t have a very definite plan of action. I didn’t want to do any hardcore sightseeing – which means there are still lots of attractions that I’ve yet to visit. Consequently I was feeling kind of directionless. I wanted to take it easy, but for all its greatness London isn’t the most laidback of cities, so it was difficult. Seeing Drew cheered me up a lot. Now I’m off up to Runcorn and Whaley Bridge to spend a few days with my family.

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Back to Blighty

I finished my last day at work without any fuss or fanfare. Given the circumstances of my departure, I didn’t even feel like telling my students. There are a number of kids that I really like – Harry (whom I named, along with the boy he sat next to – Potter), Danny, Sue and Jessie come to mind – they were fun to teach. But, just as teachers have to deal with working a year or so and moving on, so the children must be familiar with their teachers being replaced with new ones. Especially so, as their classes change every quarter. I wonder how many of the staff actually knew that Saturday was my last day.

Anyway, last day it was, and now I’m back in Britain for a week. One day last week I went to Insadong to pick up a load of presents for people – I was quite happy with what I got. I supplemented this with some food from Homeplus. Habiba stayed the night at my place on Friday and hung out there while I was at work on Saturday morning.

Once I’d finished and we’d had some lunch I got to work packing the large backpack that Habiba had lent me. I also had to book a couple of train tickets – and succeeded in booking just one, from Bath to Heathrow. I think I’ll be getting a coach from Stockport down to Bath.

At four o’clock we headed once again for the airport (Habiba had gone to Canada for her own vacation two weeks earlier). Checking in and all that stuff posed no problem. Habiba and I had a bite to eat and a drink, then kissed and said goodbye.

My first flight was from Incheon Airport to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. There, I exchanged a tenner for about 120 Hong Kong dollars. A little bit of overkill, as I only wanted a cup of tea. I’m not terribly impressed with Hong Kong currency – the coins are boring (they all have the same picture), the notes are mismatched, and the ten dollar note is a particularly ugly purple colour.

The British Airways flight from Hong Kong to Heathrow took about twelve hours and was uneventful. While I ate dinner I watched an episode each of Frasier and The Simpsons. Then it was lights off for the night. I managed to get a little sleep – certainly, I’m not feeling too bad right now on Sunday morning.

I’m writing at the McDonalds in the shopping centre attached to Victoria Station, a cup of tea beside my laptop. Once I got to Victoria, I realised I didn’t know the address of the hostel I’m staying at, the Astor Victoria. However, I saved the confirmation screen to my desktop, and now I know where to go; it’s actually closer to Pimlico station.

A polite black homeless woman asked me for the free drink sticker from my cup. I couldn’t really say no, even though I like to collect them myself. She’s sitting a couple of table across from me, waiting for more customers with teas and coffees so she can get the requisite six stickers for a free drink.

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Sugar strikes again

I got fired on Tuesday.

Not by Alan Sugar, but by the lying shower of bastards collectively known as Ginius Academy. The letter I was given by Sharon goes like this:

To SEAN

We had hoping [sic] that during this difficult period of affiliation we have expected you to change your attitude in work. Unfortunately, you have never cooperated or followed our policies. The last notice we have given you showed that you will be monitored and reported. we’ve got the report that you did not follow our working hours. We got the report that you ignored our warning and you had just left early the final term from June 17th to July 1st. Moreover, you did not work on July 11th for your personal reason which made other teacher to take over your class.

Last of all, we’ve got too many complaints from both students and parents since you’ve worked.

We have given you many opportunities to change your attitude and behavior.

Although we have been warning you several times, you have disregarded out warning.

Therefore the main branch informs you that we will be unable to utilize your services after August 31st.

President of Ginius Academy
Kim, Young Man
August 11 ,2009 [sic]

Ugh. This letter gets worse every time I read it – and not because of the grammatical mistakes.

Here’s what really happened. A few months ago, after Ginius took over from E-Castle Academy (which Sharon has now told me went bankrupt. Actually, she implied that ECA was someone else’s company – others have told me it was owned by her and her husband) Jason (Sharon’s brother) told us that we couldn’t leave before the end of classes at 10:10. He told us there was someone from Ginius watching us and that a first violation would be met with a warning, a second with a pay deduction and a third with dismissal.

You may remember that I was pretty pissed off about this, but I eventually came to terms with it and made arrangements to go to my taekwondo class later for one-to-one training with my master (and very nice of her it was to to this). I deliberately left early once, shortly after that meeting. Immediately after that there was an exam period for middle school students. I’m pretty sure Jason told us we could leave early during this time, because we had no classes after 7pm. One of the Korean team leaders also told us we ought to go home. So Travis, Sandy and I all did so.

I heard nothing more about the matter until Tuesday.

As to the other things, July 11th was a Saturday – and my contract says my work days are Monday to Friday. They gave us less than a week’s notice of this extra work day – after they decided to cancel classes on the preceeding Monday. I might have gone into work, but that was the weekend I went to the Mud Festival with Habiba and friends. The complaints are par for the course in the hagwon business – parents complain about anything. And, again, that letter was the first I heard about them.

Which all makes a comment like, ‘Although we have been warning you several times, you have disregarded out warning’ completely fucking retarded, not to mention downright dishonest.

Lastly, as you can see from the dates mentioned in the letter, they’ve given me 20 days notice (my contract states I should have 60 days).

I’m not the most assertive person in the world, so arguing with Sharon about this was pretty depressing. Anything I said she would just ignore or override me, or counter that that’s not the way we do things in Korea. I wrote what I think was a very diplomatic letter to the Ginius president; printed it off and gave it to one of the receptionists on Friday. Don’t think it’s got to him yet; certainly I’ve heard nothing more from Sharon.

The most likely explanations for them firing are cutting costs and office politics. They may well want to get rid of someone they don’t like in favour of another foreigner on a lower salary or who is possibly underworked at another branch. Or they may just want to get rid of the post, but I doubt that. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is a real danger for foreigners teaching English in Korea.

So now I’m looking for a new job, but also considering whether I really want a new job at this stage. But I’m definitely planning to get legal representation and take Ginius to the Labor Office for unfair dismissal.

As I said in my last post, I had already been thinking about looking for a new job to start in March. Now change has been thrust upon me – and it could turn out to be a good thing. Pain in the arse, though.

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It seems like there are three main elements of my life at the moment – Habiba, work and illness.

After having taken a new course of steroids (starting at six pills per day and slowly coming down to four a day now) my bowels are slowly returning to normality (whatever that means). A few weeks ago I needed to use the bathroom almost on a half-hourly basis. Pretty exhausting. Now, I just need to go a few times in the morning and a few times in the evening. Once I’ve taken my medicine after breakfast my guts remain stable (although not always comfortable) for a good chunk of the day.

For the last two weeks I’ve been working 8:30 to 4:40 Monday to Friday and 8:30 to 12:10 on Saturdays. Despite this, the summer intensive classes haven’t been too bad – I don’t have any really terrible classes, although they’re not all great. I haven’t been feeling too tired at work, but I haven’t been 100% awake much of the time.

I should have been paid my bonus of ₩2,300,000 with my July packet, along with a raise of ₩100,000. Neither materialised. When I told our boss, Sharon, about it she seemed annoyed that I’d brought this to her attention. Then she explained that the person who did the accounts at E-Castle had left without telling the Ginius people about my pay arrangements. It seems like a pathetic excuse, but she said they’d sort it out next week. I’ll see if it’s happened by Wednesday. If not, first I need to talk to someone and see what they tell me. If I get fobbed off again I should think about getting some legal representation and taking my case to the Labor Office.

The atmosphere at work – especially around me, it seems – hasn’t been too good lately. A few weeks ago there was a meeting – apparently to introduce the different staff members to each other. No one explained what was going on to the foreign staff (or at least to me), and no translations were provided. I probably didn’t make a good impression when I introduced myself: ‘I’m Sean. I from the UK…. I’m finished.’ A couple of weeks ago there was a staff meal after work that I didn’t go to, preferring to spend time with Habiba. I slipped away without saying goodbye to anyone. Since about that time I’ve noticed a little less friendliness being directed at me.

I suppose I’m not really that bothered about it, but – along with the pay issue – it makes Habiba’s suggestion of coming to work with her much more appealing. So much so, that I’m seriously thinking about applying for a job at her place starting in March (the start of the Korean academic year). The main problem for me is the hours – Habiba works something like 9:20 to 5:40 daily. I know that doesn’t sound bad, but afternoon/evening working hours are a major part of the attraction of teaching English in Korea.

Habiba is away on holiday in Montréal this week. She’s been looking forward to this trip – for the whole of this year, it seems. I hope she has a good time over there – the way she’s been talking about it makes me a little jealous. My own vacation starts in two weeks’ time, though. Then it’ll be back to a normal schedule for the rest of the year.

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