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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

… another year, that is.

Having met Mary the day before, we’d made plans and I duly went to meet her at Ewha Women’s University, where she’s a student. We went to a cat café – the first time I’d been to one, which is pretty astonishing, given how much I love cats. We were the only customers there until four schoolgirls came in later. There were about fifteen cats in the moderately sized café, perhaps more, of lots of breeds – longhairs with and without squishy faces, some tabbies, including something like an ocicat, and a calm, assertive pair of Siamese or similar cats that sat on our table and let us adore them. I’m not really up on cat breeds, so I can only guess at their types.

Idae Cat Café

The place looked very clean, but was a little smelly. The cats were mostly friendly and inquisitive, but some of them evidently didn’t like some of their fellow inmates. We got coffees for ourselves and a tiny cup of treats for the cats and mused on the kind of life the cats must have and must’ve had in the past.

Afterwards, Mary took me a museum on the nearby campus that contained lots of hanbok – traditional clothing – and furniture. We walked down the trench that is the main architectural feature of the university – as a building, it’s appropriately uterine rather than phallic – and had a look, and lunch, inside.

Ewha Women's University

For much of the day, we’d been expecting Matthew to join us, but he turned out to be excessively busy with work. We even went to see a film (One Day; annoyingly will-they-won’t-they-ish at first, but it grew on me somewhat; Anne Hathaway was especially lovely as the freckly, bespectacled, northern British protagonist) to wait for him. He turned up as we were having dinner and we had drinks together afterwards.

The following day, I played Magic and a new (to me) game called Zombies!!! with Eric. I’ve not hung out with him that much, but he’s a very nice chap and it was good to chat with him.

The next day, I went on a hike near Anyang – for which I’d especially bought crampons the day before from one of a series of outdoors gear shops I’d seen lots of times when I lived in Cheongdam. The crampons worked extremely well; having slipped and slid on packed snow the last time I’d gone for a hike, the grip provided made me feel especially stable.

The hike was organised by a couple of groups: Indigo Hill and the unfortunately named SHITY – Sunday Hikers Interested in Trekking Yet-again. It lasted over five hours and the weather was very cold and very sunny. The snow wasn’t very thick on the ground, but thick enough to beatify the landscape in that way that only snow can; it clung to the limbs of pine trees in lumpy lines.

Mountain Near Anyang

Afterwards, we went for a meal of chicken stew with lots of side dishes. The leaders of the group were very friendly – as, indeed, were all the hikers. There was an American guy who could apparently teach you anything – scuba diving, skiing, salsa dancing (but this latter only if you were of the opposite gender). I exchanged numbers with a few people. Later, a smaller group of us went to a singing room or noraebang in the nearby city, where I gave a rather unsteady rendition of ‘The Day That Never Comes’ by Metallica (and rather better performances of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’). A cute hiker with not much English and the unusual name of Ok (pronounced something like ‘oak’) dragged me to my feet to dance.

The next day, New Year’s Eve, I met one of the hikers I exchanged details with the previous day for coffee. After meeting her, I headed straight over to Gangnam for the first stage of the New Year’s Eve event I’d signed up for on Meetup.com. This consisted of dinner at one of the chains of western-ish-style buffet restaurants that are popular in Korea – Ashley’s. The food was mediocre at best, but there was a limitless supply of four wines (which I mostly liked, so they were probably crap, too). I said hello to various people and exchanged introductions, sat with three American girls for dinner and we were joined by a Korean and a South African couple.

Afterwards, we had to take the subway across the city to Hongdae for the other part of the package – Club Mansion. There’s really nothing mansion-like about this place, but it’s one of the more exclusive places, apparently costing ₩20,000 to get in. I danced with a couple of women that I liked; had a brief and fairly innocent romantic moment with one, but, alas, I don’t think anything will develop between me and any of the three women I met that day.

I did quite get into the dancing – which is surprising. Shocking, even. The very idea of dancing usually fills me with a vague sense of humiliation. But with five glasses of wine and a few beers in my belly as well as no one around that I knew (and therefore no expectations on me to behave in the way that I expect them to expect me to behave), I was able to enjoy the time in the way that one is supposed to enjoy it. Mary also turned up at the club (which is how I know how much it cost), but we didn’t spend much time together.

Later, I hung out at the Hongdae Tom N Toms, waiting for the subway to open, with a young guy I’d met in the group of people I’d tagged along with. He fell asleep as we sat at a table and I was deeply engrossed in my smart phone – and pretty sleepy myself. When I woke him up to leave, he didn’t have his phone – the upshot being that it had almost certainly been stolen. Someone might almost literally have snatched it from under my nose as it sat on the table. The fact that my own phone may have been taken from someone in similar circumstances made me feel extra crappy – although not nearly as crappy as my New Year’s acquaintance.

That morning, I got back to Zach’s place at maybe seven o’clock. I woke up at 10:30 and decided not to try to sleep more. Matthew and I played Magic later in the day and I headed back to Cheonan in the evening.

The following day, I met three people at an Indian restaurant near Cheonan Station for dinner. The food was great – I had a buttery chicken curry (can’t remember exactly what kind) – and the three women (Americans) were nice and friendly (as, too, was the chatty guy (American) who didn’t join us, but hung around for a while after he’d finished his own, separate meal). They’d all travelled varying distances for the meal – which someone had suggested on a Facebook group – and, with my hours of 2:00 to 9:30 and my determination to do lots of social stuff in Seoul and Daegu at weekends, I’m unlikely to see them again soon.

At some point in the day or two after the, dare I say, euphoria of New Year’s Eve, I had a kind of emotional crash. A small one. I don’t often spontaneously cry – by which I mean, not without reason, but without a trigger – but this was one of those times. I was feeling lonely and pitiful and kind of stupid. To some degree, I became someone else on New Year’s Eve and I was expecting him to be more successful at flirtation and romance than I’ve ever been. Naïve of me to think that kind of thing is ever easy.

Still, the year is yet young, and, in just a few days from now, I will have money to spare for trips and events and suchlike and we will see what happens.

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The last couple of weekends have been pretty busy and fun.

The weekend before last, I came up to Seoul, my small backpack heavy with my box of Magic cards and a few bits of clothing and toiletries – and my computer, which I probably didn’t really need. I’ve recently joined a bunch of groups on Meetup and my first order of business was to attend my first event with one of them. It was a beginners’ life drawing class at a studio in Itaewon. The instructor had us practise a few different drawing techniques – initially with one of the attendees with whom he was evidently familiar because the model was late, and then with a model once she arrived.

Three Life-drawing Sketches

It was interesting work, quite challenging – especially having not had much practice at sketching for a long time, other than the occasional map for a game or story. I think I did reasonably well, though. The model was a white, North American woman – she resembled a blond Natalie Portman. Most of the attendees were women too; I chatted to a few on the way out and back to the subway station, but the atmosphere in the class was quiet so I felt pretty self-conscious about talking to anyone in there. The one woman I did talk to in the class seemed quite uncomfortable.

Afterwards, I met those sterling gentlemen, Matthew and Zach. We had dinner together and I dropped my things at Zach’s place (which is conveniently nextdoor to Matt’s place; I knocked on their doors simultaneously) where I stayed the night. Later in the evening, Zach and I went to Hongdae where he had a gig to play with Damnear David, a David Bowie cover singer. Also on the bill was a Queen cover band, Queen Machine – which I really quite enjoyed.

The following day, the three of us went to Wangsimni to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which we all agreed was very good, although it did have some silly bits like the hero not leaving home for the first hour of the film and Galadriel teleporting to avoid scuffing or tripping up over her long skirts.

We also played lots of Magic: The Gathering. Zach and I did, at any rate – Matthew had other duties that called him away.

During the week, I made a bunch of paper snowflakes with my students to decorate my class a little. There has been quite a bit of real snow of late and the weather has been very cold occasionally – making my classroom unpleasantly chilly; the single heater is not really up to the task of heating the whole room.

Paper Snowflakes

I also got my Alien Registration Card and set up a bank account with KEB – Korea Exchange Bank. Actually, I set up two accounts (no, I didn’t – the bank clerk did it for me); one is a regular current account, into which I’ll be paid, and the other automatically transfers any money put into it to my UK bank account. Once I got paid, I transferred some money into the second account; I’ve just checked and it has arrived in my British account. Now I can pay off the credit card debt I’ve built up in my first month back in Korea. Unfortunately, the advances on my salary that I’ve been given mean that I probably won’t have enough cash to see out this next month, so I’m going to have to withdraw more money on my credit card.

I had to go back to the hospital where I got my health check done. I went initially to an internal medicine clinic I’d noticed in order to get a week’s worth of my colitis medication. The doctor – a rather uninspiringly nervous and boyish middle-aged man – told me he couldn’t prescribe it but gave me a note to take to the hospital. Having seen one of the specialists at the hospital, I made my way down one of the staircases and passed this very pretty nurse who’d tested my sight and given me my sealed envelope with the results a couple of weeks afterwards. She had been very nice, trying to speak English and (kind of) remembering my name. She stopped to say hello and prove that she remembered my name again (with only a little prompting from me). I asked her hers.

I had to return once more to the hospital to get another copy of the health check statement – the last one had been for the Immigration Office; this one was for the police, with whom I was supposed to be registered. I was able to ask for Ji-yeong by name and she prepared another envelope for me.

There was a weird episode towards the end of the week when Julie, my boss, put it to me that she didn’t want to sign me up for the (legally required) national health insurance and pension schemes and instead wanted to get something private. Or maybe that wasn’t exactly what she was saying, but because of something the recruiter had told her she didn’t seem keen.

I’m very aware that Americans and Canadians can get the pension contributions back when they leave the country, but Britons can’t. This is because of differing reciprocal arrangements between governments; Koreans working in the UK also can’t get a refund of National Insurance contributions. Apparently, the recruiter had told her that she wouldn’t need to pay into the national system for a British employee and that had been a factor in her choosing me over someone else. After asking various people and reading about it, I told her I wanted to pay into the national systems – so that’s apparently what I’m now doing.

I say apparently because after getting confirmation that I was signed up from Julie, I went back to internal medicine clinic, the hospital and the pharmacy and got partial refunds on my payments because I was now retroactively covered. I’ve since been back to the hospital and pharmacy and my consultation and medication were a lot more expensive than I was expecting.

This past weekend was one of Magic and Burning Wheel gaming. Zach, Matthew and I played MTG on Saturday. That other sterling gentleman, Peter, met me on Sunday and we played more Magic, then Zach joined us and we got started on a roleplaying game run by Peter. I played a fisherman exiled from his village and Zach played a cleric with the character trait Overbearing Loony; we were united by a desire to stop colonists interfering with local culture – or at least with an old temple. It was a very promising game and seemed to go off on a tangent quite quickly – or maybe it was all planned. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the story soon.

The first thing I did on Saturday was head up to Itaewon to see a man about a phone. I was expecting a North American, but it turned out to be an Indian or Pakistani guy. I started to feel a bit suspicious, but checked the instinct. The phone he offered me was white instead of the black one shown in the photo on Craigslist. I bought it anyway – I’m far too polite to have refused. I came to the conclusion later that the phone was almost certainly stolen. The man didn’t have any idea how to change a setting I e-mailed him about later; the phone is a little bit scuffed on the back, while this chap provided brand new recharging and data cables; he spoke near-perfect English, but he changed the phone from Korean to English right in front of me.

Anyway, it works and I’ve been to the SK Telecom centre to get a new USIM card for it – thus registering an account with SK as well as getting an actual phone number. The clerk opened it up and typed some numbers from inside the phone into her computer. I can only assume that if someone had reported it stolen, some alert would have come up at this point. Maybe it was second-hand after all.

The really disappointing thing about the phone was that it was white and not black. Nevertheless, I’ve got a pretty fancy 4G smart phone with a big screen and I’m starting to get used to how it works and alter things to my taste.

Monday was the last day of teaching for me this year. I had one class with a four-year-old boy, then the next class was an amalgam of many of the elementary school kids and we watched Brave on my laptop. A couple of hours later, the middle- and high- schoolers did the same, but I had to leave halfway through to take a class with one of the girls; then I had one more class with one of the older boys and I was done. The kids will be back on Wednesday, but I have my contractual five days of holiday.

Today, Tuesday, I spent doing not very much – washing clothes, walking around the city, blogging. I had pepperoni pizza for dinner with chocolates and beer and Misfits and the Simpsons.

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I now have an e-ticket for a Turkish Airlines flight to Korea via Istanbul, leaving on Sunday afternoon and arriving on Monday evening. I have no passport still – I’m hoping it’ll arrive on Saturday, but if it doesn’t, my recruiter will be able to reschedule my journey. Once at the airport, I’m to be met by a ‘pick-up man’, whose duty is to buy me a ticket for the bus (although I’ll have to pay for it) and see that I get on – and presumably let the recruiter know so that they can let the director know what time to pick me up from the bus station.

I’ve doing some partial packing to see how much stuff I can fit into my backpack and suitcase. My baggage allowance is 30kg, with 8kg carry-on. I may be making full use of this allowance – and leaving some stuff behind that I had hoped to take. When I launder my last clothes on Saturday, I’ll have a better idea.

The other day, I went to the doctor to ask about whether my medication, mesalazine, would trigger a false positive on the drugs test I’ll have to take as part of my official health exam, which will prove that I’m literally fit to teach in Korea. He said that it wouldn’t and neither would paracetamol (unless I took huge amounts of it) and similar pills; steroids and sleeping pills would – but I’m not going to be using either of those.

I also showed him a couple of photos of my back that I’d taken – at his recommendation – over the past couple of months. I have lots of moles and they’ve grown and multiplied over my life – it’s hard to say, as it’s such a slow process and, being mostly on my back, they’re hard to keep an eye on. I handed over my memory stick, on to which I’d copied the two photos. He connected it to his computer and had a look at the two pictures. The third picture turned out to be a saved soft porn picture I’d saved in a different folder – I never use the automatic slideshow option, so I wasn’t expecting that. Kind of embarrassing, but the doctor took it in his stride.

On the subject of my moles, he said he would have referred me to a specialist to check out two irregularly shaped moles espcially – if I wasn’t leaving the country. He recommended I see a skin specialist before too long.

After that, I headed off to Manchester on the train. I had been thinking about getting a couple of non-fiction books, but ended up just getting Robert Rankin’s new novel – The Educated Ape and Other Wonders of the Worlds. I’m not sure whether I should make this my in-flight reading or plump for something else, as I only recently read the book’s immediate predecessor, The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age.

I also went to see Argo, which I thought was great – a tense, funny and apparently realistic depiction of the rescue of six embassy workers from revolutionary Iran. The stand-out feature of the film, though, was the period detail – the hairstyles and facial hair, the grainy footage, the vintage Warner Brothers logo at the start. This sense of authenticity was bolstered by snippets of historical footage intercut with the movie; it was especially powerful in the early scene when the US embassy is stormed by Iranian protesters. Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston were all great, along with the lesser know actors playing the six staff; Ben Affleck’s performance was understated to the point of being semi-somnolent. The climax of the film was drawn out too much for dramatic effect. Overall, a very fine movie.

The title of this post comes from a line in the film that becomes a catchphrase for some of the characters. Alan Arkin’s character, a producer, is being badgered by a journalist who wants to know the meaning of the title of the fake film within the film – Argo. Eventually, he snaps and says, ‘Argo fuck yourself.’

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I watched the film of this book a while ago with Habiba and didn’t much like it. In retrospect, the part that turned me off it was the sappy love story between the two sappy blondies. One of the (many) good things about books is that they can’t be ruined by cheesy acting – however one imagines the characters delivering their lines, it will be completely appropriate to one’s expectations. I would have liked to have read the book first – I couldn’t get the images of the actors out of my mind.

Anyway – the book. It’s an entertaining read, not least because of the irreverent and even subversive manner in which it’s written. The version I read (it was Habiba’s copy, in fact) included an introduction that talked about how the novel came to be filmed, as well as the first chapter of a sequel, Buttercup’s Baby. The novel itself starts with an introduction, where the author – or rather, the authorial voice – talks about how his father read S Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride to him as a child – but only read the best parts – and how as an adult he resolved to make the book accessible to his son by abridging it.

This framing device of notes on the abridgement crops up throughout and is a major source of the book’s humour. The fictional Morgenstern, author of the original text, wasn’t so much interested in the adventure and romance of the story, but was instead intent on satirising the Florinese royal family and traditions, as well as doctors. Goldman’s narrative voice interrupts Buttercup, Westley, Inigo and Fezzik constantly in italicised passages explaining that the next 50 or whatever pages of the original consist of detailed descriptions of this or that aspect of life, and that, while, according to the experts in Florinese literature, they represent a masterful satire, they don’t advance the plot at all and are pretty boring.

These notes are also full of details of Goldman’s life – his unhappy marriage to his incisive psychologist wife, his unhappy fatherhood to his unhappy fat son. All of this is completely fictional and adds an extra layer of charm to the story. And the story is undoubtedly quite charming. Buttercup, while capable of being a sappy, lovelorn beauty, can also be utterly pragmatic – once she believes Westley dead she agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck as long as it’s understood that it won’t be for love. Westley is full of understated, dry quips. Fezzik and Inigo form an endearingly inept double act.

When I said that the book was subversive, I referred to Goldman’s interruptions and memories on the topic of fairness. In stories, the good guys always triumph over the bad guys. Here, however, one of the heroes dies, and by the end of the book, the villain of the piece is thwarted but not vanquished and is hot on the trail of the desperately fleeing protagonists. A very unresolved resolution.

The story continues in the first chapter of a supposed sequel, Buttercup’s Baby – a sequel that, Goldman explains in another introduction, he was forbidden from abridging by Morgenstern’s estate. Instead, they want Stephen King to do it. When Goldman goes to visit King in Maine, King tells him his abridgment of The Princess Bride sucked – but he gives him a shot at doing the first chapter of the second book. This new chapter gives a little more of a conclusion to the foregoing story, but introduces fresh mysteries, like the imminent death of Fezzik, the history of Inigo’s one love, and the skinless-faced man who steals Westley and Buttercup’s child. No resolution to this new story is offered, and Goldman puzzles over Morgenstern’s narrative choices and strategy.

The book as a whole is confusing, frustrating – deliberately so – but also readable and humorous. Despite its disparate construction it works as a whole – although it almost doesn’t. The conceit of Goldman simply abridging an existing work rather than writing it himself is certainly not original, but is done in a charmingly unique fashion. One criticism I would offer of this aspect of the novel is that the narrative voices of the Goldman sections and the Morgenstern sections are almost identical. Goldman writes in a distinctive twentieth century American vernacular – and so does Morgenstern. One shouldn’t make too much of that, though.

All in all, a strange, idiosyncratic, but entertaining novel.

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Just read this on Locus Online: Lawrence Person’s Top Ten Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films of 2000-2010. Seems like a solid list and I agree with pretty much all of his comments on the films listed. I think District 9 could have been mentioned. At the bottom, there’s a run down of some turkeys of the decade – Anyone seen Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter?

What movies would you add to the list?

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At the weekend, Habiba and I went to Osan, one of Seoul’s satellite cities, about an hour’s bus ride south of the capital. We went at the invitation of Habiba’s friend Jessica, and we stayed with Jess’s friend Laura.

We left on Friday evening, going from Nambu Bus Terminal in southern Seoul and travelling with Habiba’s colleague Aiden and a couple of his friends. Over the last two or three months I’ve been trying to up my writing output, so spending time away from home can be a great irritation, not to mention the fact that spending time with a group of people I don’t know well is very stressful for me. I was worried that going on the trip was a mistake. Habiba had the same thoughts, too, and talked about it on the the ride down.

When we arrived there, we met Jess and Laura at the modest bus station. Jessica (Canadian) took Aiden (Irish), TK (Korean) and Adrian (Australian) to a hotel; Laura (South African) took Habiba (American/Canadian) and me (British) to her place. After that, we had dinner at a galbi (Korean barbecue) restaurant. After that we went drinking at an American-style bar, WA Bar. And after that we went to a noraebang (Korean karaoke) place. The music at the noraebang was better that usual – some of it actually sounds like real instruments. I bored everyone with ‘Some Kind of Monster’ (it’s over eight minutes long – the intro is two minutes long).

The next morning, after far too little sleep, we were fed tasty blueberry pancakes by Laura, and we were joined by Laura’s boyfriend, Chris (British). Then we gradually made our way to the nearby, slightly larger, city of Suwon. I’d been to Suwon the year before last to visit the fortress, or Hwaseong. I remembered the station area with its big D-shaped road in front. Last time I walked; this time we taxied – once we found the correct taxi rank.

We didn’t actually get to the fortress itself – a large ring of fortifications that dates back to the 18th century – but we did spend an hour or so looking round the associated palace, Haenggung – an area I completely missed on my previous visit. After lunch, Aiden, TK and Adrian left us to head back to Seoul.

Much of the rest of our day was taken up with travelling back to Osan. The distance can’t be much more than ten kilometres, but it took us two hours. The problem was that there is a one-stop branch line on the subway between Osan and Suwon and we weren’t paying much attention as we were playing a word game (taking turns to name adjectives beginning with the same letter letter – angry, adroit, awkward etc). We first went to the branch line stop, then waited (I think we missed one train that would have taken us back to the mainline through inattention), then got off at the right stop and promptly got on the next train – which, of course, took us back to dead-end branch line. Eventually, we paid attention and got back to Osan.

We had dinner at a Thai restaurant near a US airbase along with another friend of Jess and Laura’s, another Jessica (American). Then we had more drinks (despite the fact that I shouldn’t be partaking with my bowels) and more word games.

On Sunday, we were resolved to go to a folk village somewhere close to Suwon. However, although I didn’t get noticeably drunk the previous night, I had a headache that got worse throughout the day – no doubt due to the hot, sunny weather. As headaches do when they get bad, it started making me feel nauseous. I informed Habiba by text (I was on the toilet) that I didn’t think I could make it through an afternoon on my feet outdoors. We ended up going to see Toy Story 3.

In 3D, no less. I wouldn’t have chosen to see it in 3D, but we didn’t have a choice – unless we wanted to watch the dubbed version. It was a good film. The Toy Stories are a solid bet for humour and emotional content, and for appealing to children and adults alike. Actually, 3 was probably a bit strong for young kids. Woody, Buzz and co are forced to face the final frontier – which for a toy is being thrown away and destroyed. Don’t worry – it has a happy ending. Probably the highlight of the movie was Buzz Lightyear being switched to Spanish mode and dancing a little flamenco dance for Jessie, including a hilarious crab scuttle move. As with the only other film I’ve seen in 3D (How to Train Your Dragon), it wasn’t worth paying the extra for what is effectively much lower picture quality.

Then we went back to Osan to pick up our bags and catch a bus back to Seoul. Given what I described in the second paragraph, it was a surprisingly good weekend. I didn’t get any work done, but we had a lot of fun and made a couple of new friends (we’re connected on Facebook now, so it must be true).

This coming weekend, I have a thing with work. They call it MT – management training – here, I understand. We’re going rafting. I don’t really know much about except that I’m on the white team, which means I’m supposed to wear something white. The only white tops I have – and I have surprisingly many – all have ugly yellow-green stains on the underarms.

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Back home

Habiba and I are back at home now, and not terribly happy about it. Habiba, of course, wants to be with her father; I would rather not have to get up at around 7:30 every day to go to a job that is not at all strenuous, but still manages to be very tiring. Some time ago I promised myself I would never do a nine-to-five office job again. Somehow I forgot about that last year. At least I can’t complain about the remuneration.

Habiba’s dad is still hanging in there, but, while he isn’t getting much worse, there have been a series of problems that seem to be holding his recovery back. His kidneys weren’t so good for a while, then he had a fever; the latest news is that he has some bad bed sores. None of these seem to have been major problems, but they’re frustrating.

Habiba calls her mother every morning and night (Korean time; New York is 13 hours behind, so the times of day are reversed for her parents) to check in. If it weren’t for internet telephony I’m sure there’s a good chance Habiba wouldn’t have returned to Korea.

I’ve been feeling emotionally crappy since we got back. The other night I tried to tell Habiba what I was feeling. I talked about how stressful the visit to America was for me, how fed up I am at work and that I kind of wanted to kick it all in and go travelling, escape from responsibility for a while. Habiba was devastated.

She thought I wanted to abandon her and go my own way. I thought I was more just venting, thinking aloud. We sorted it out, and I’m feeling a lot happier today. Making up was nice – and there wasn’t even any sex involved.

On Monday I went to see The A-Team with Zach. It was surprisingly good. Even though it was a very beefed up, contemporary action movie and it was more of an A-Team Begins type of story, it was pretty true to the TV series. That said, it brought it up-to-date in various ways – especially in terms of action and special effects. There was lots of humour, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. Liam Neeson was great as Hannibal, although he looked weird with grey hair; and I’ve never really noticed what an unusual profile he has.

One favourite moment involved the bad guy, a CIA agent, in a car, watching a live feed from a bomber that was bombing the A-Team’s supposed location. After the explosion had blossomed on the screen he said, ‘It’s just like Call of Duty‘.

Today, I finished the first draft of the story I’ve been working on the past couple of months. Even while writing it I made notes of changes that need to be made to it. Still lots of work needed before it’s good enough for anyone else to read. I’m very tempted to write a completely different story before I get to work on that task, though – it’s been a slow, gradual slog and I think I need a bit of distance from it.

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It was my birthday two days ago and the celebrations went on for two days. Well, the main event was Tuesday night, with a subsidiary event the following day.

After work on Tuesday (where I’d already had a little mini birthday party and been given four boxes of teabags and some toner (of the cosmetic rather than printing variety)) I gathered a group of friends – Habiba, of course, Andrew and Seong-hyeon from work, Todd from roleplaying and Aidan and Alicia from Habiba’s work – and went for a meal at a place near Konkuk University with the silly name Bread is Ready, Coffee is Done. I’d been there once before with my friend and colleague Ji-hyeon and thought it was pretty decent and not too expensive. I think the feeling on Tuesday night was that it wasn’t that great. I was happy with my meal, however.

After that we embarked on a quest for a bowling alley that had been recommended to us by Zack. He was able to provide me with it’s location on a mapping website, so it was quite straightforward getting there. Once we got there, though, we were told there was a two hour wait for lanes. I had thought about trying to make a reservation, but in the end decided it probably wouldn’t be necessary. We put our names down for lanes and left.

After some umming and ahhing, during which time we were joined by Jessica who had a cactus for me, Andrew found us a bar to go to – a place called Bunker Bar. It looked like something from the eighties, but it served drinks (as long as you also bought food – par for the course in Korea) and had a booth where we could push a couple of tables together and enjoy a little privacy. We had beer – some of us soju – and fries and Korean savoury pancake and fruit. June arrived and Ksan and Jun-hong also joined us, bearing a bottle of wine and some flowers stolen from a wedding (which they’d just come from).

I was challenged to partake of a Korean tradition where someone who’s birthday it is or is leaving a company or what have you has to down a drink consisting of various things added by the other people. Mine was very tame – mostly beer with some cola, soju and sugary milk from the fruit salad thing – oh, and some parsley, courtesy of Habiba.

Then we went bowling – which was lots of fun. There were ten of us sharing two neighbouring lanes. I was using the bathroom when people were assigned teams and I ended up with Andrew, Seong-hyeon, Alicia and Ksan. The first game was very close. Habiba got 96 points, I think, and I got 93. I found my rhythm more in the second game and got the highest score of 132. Andrew wowed everyone by getting four strikes in a row for his last four rolls – but he was coming from a low score of about 60.

Eric joined us during the second game – a little too late to play, unfortunately. Once the bowling was done half our number returned to their dwelling while the rest of us went on to a noraebang and sang songs for an hour and a half. Eric and I duetted on a rendition of Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff’, which is a song that I think is fantastic, but he thinks is terrible.

And then we all went to our respective homes.

The following day was Iron Man 2. Ten of us got together for this, with me providing the tickets (Seong-uk at work helping me reserved them the following day – the cost has apparently been charged to my phone bill as I lack a Korean credit card). It was good, but not great, in my opinion. It had a lot of great elements, but it all seemed a bit perfunctory, nothing was covered in great depth. Even the highly fit Scarlett Johansson kicking multiple arse did little for me as her character was so unimportant and emotionally flat.

Later in the day, wearing the T-shirt Habiba had got me (beardy faces), the love of my life and I went to Itaewon where she pick me up another gift – Sea of Silver Light, the final book in the Otherland series. Then we went for a fancy meal at a restaurant in Itaewon, OK2.

The first course consisted of three small, disparate slices of raw fish on a plate with a little garnish. That makes it sound terrible, but it was actually very good. The whole meal consisted of about six courses, of which the fish appetiser was probably the most haute; the heartiest was the fish pasta. My main course was roast duck and not as good as Habiba’s snapper (more fish). It was an interesting and tasty (and pricey – but that’s OK: Habiba paid) meal.

All in all, it was a pretty excellent birthday.

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A couple of weeks ago I returned to the Immigration office in western Seoul to pick up my passport and Alien Registration Card. Everything was in order. My registration number is the same as my previous one, which makes me think it might be the same one I got the first time I came to Korea all the way back in 2006.

I’ve been kept busy at work, but I finally managed to clear the backlog of proofreading that had built up in my absence. This allowed me to finish the first draft of the workbook I’d been writing. I’ve now got another pile of proofreading to do.

I don’t mind working while I’m at work, but, with effectively nine to seven working hours plus up to an hour and a half travel time every day, I do yearn for a bit of downtime.

My colleagues in the Learning Center at work had a meeting with our boss at the end of last week that left them feeling shitty. The boss told them that we shouldn’t ask for any more support for the Learning Center. The way my colleagues told me about it made it seem that the boss had just denigrated everything we were working for. In disgust at this attitude, they cancelled Friday’s classes, making up an excuse about the electrics being tested.

I don’t know what to think about this, really. I just want to do my job. The problem is that I have two jobs – one teaching, one on the Contents team, writing and editing. I don’t have enough time to do both fully, and the boss’s message seemed to make it clear that my primary concern should be the Contents work – and to hell with the teaching.

In other news, now that spring has sprung Habiba and I have been keeping ourselves busy at weekends with stuff. We went on a hike to Cheonggyesan with a couple of other people. Cheonggyesan is just south of Seoul near Seoul Grand Park. It was OK, but the mountain isn’t as interesting as others. The highlight was stopping at Cheonggyesa, the Buddhist temple, on the way down. There’s a massive sculpture of a sleeping Buddha made of smooth, head-sized rocks set into cement.

The next day we went to Yeouido, the ‘island’ where the National Assembly and the 63 Building are located (I say ‘island’ because its separated from the mainland only by a narrow stream). The road surrounding the Assembly building on the Han River side is lined with cherry trees, and they were in full bloom. The weather was grey, but it was still nice – apart from the huge crowds that were also there to take in the sight.

Yesterday, Habiba, I and Habiba’s friend Jessica went on a Korea Foundation Volunteer Network monthly culture class. We went to Bukchon, an area near the main palace – Gyeongbokgung – and the presidential residence – the Blue House, or Cheongwadae. This neighbourhood is full of traditional Korean houses called hanok, coffee and tea shops, fashion boutiques and a handful of museums.

Our first port of call was a small hanok compound preserved as a museum-cum-culture centre. There, we tie-dyed handkerchiefs in indigo dye. This was a lot of fun. We were each given a white handkerchief and a bunch of elastic bands. We bound the former with the latter and, wearing rubber gloves, dunked them into large bowls of fermented indigo. This dye was warm, green and stinky, although not too obnoxious. Once exposed to the air, the handkerchiefs started to turn blue. I screwed mine into a ball for a cloudy, marbley effect; Habiba made a check pattern; and Jessica’s was something else entirely.

After that we were separated into teams and we had lunch with the two Korean guys who we were grouped with. After that, we walked around Bukchon for a while. I imagine we’ll be heading there again so Habiba can drool over clothes and jewellery. Not literally. Probably.

Today, we have plans to go and see Kick Ass. Again. We saw it on Friday night with a bunch of Habiba’s colleagues. It was – well, it was kick ass. So good, in fact, that we made plans to see it again with a different group of friends.

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Pottering

On Saturday, Habiba and I along with Habiba’s friend Charlie went to a one-off pottery class organised by the Korea Foundation Volunteer Network. I’d previously been on just one of their monthly events – a walk up Inwangsan, a small mountain near the president’s residence (the Blue House). I’d gone with Bo and So-young and we’d hooked up with one of the volunteers, Sugyung to see a film afterwards. She and I subsequently went to see Quantum of Solace together, but I hadn’t seen her after that – until I bumped into her at Boryeong the previous weekend.

All the attendees met at Indeogwon Station, south of Seoul (I used to pass through the area on the blue subway line when I lived in Ansan). From there, we were ferried by car to the pottery studio, Clay House. We had to hang around for a while waiting for everyone to arrive; we looked at the various pieces on display, on sale or simply being stored.

Habiba and Charlie

Once everyone was there, we gathered in a large tent behind the building and sat at chunky wooden tables. One of the potters gave us instructions in Korean, which were then translated into broken English by a male volunteer. He was a little embarrassed at his ability to render the directions into English – but it was a good-natured moment with laughter all round.

The Master Craftsman with the Shiny Nose

At our table were the three of us along with a Korean girl, Eun-yeong, and a Turkish guy Dursun (he and his wonderfully-named friend, Saruhan, are studying Korean here). Charlie and Dursun flirted a little, and they and I practiced our Korean with Eun-yeong.

Pottery

I made a large mug, which I decorated with leaf-shapes, Habiba made a bowl, Charlie also did a mug, Eun-yeong made a couple of bowls for liquor, while Dursun, I think, made a bowl and a gravy boat. While Habiba was away trying her hand at a pottery wheel, I also made a cat.

It was a lot of fun – a very engaging challenge. The various mugs, bowls, vases and ornaments need time to dry and be fired; we can pick them up next month.

Afterwards, Habiba, Charlie and I headed back up to Habiba’s neck of the woods to eat and then meet a couple of her colleagues – Zack and June – to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (more pottering – see?). I think we all enjoyed it – it was certainly the best of the three I’ve seen so far.

After that, June went home and the rest us of had ice cream then played Boggle in a bar.

It was a very pleasant day.

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