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Posts Tagged ‘Seoul’

On Monday, I had two interviews at kindergartens, one near Mia in northern Seoul and a second just round the corner from where I live. This latter seemed like the perfect location, at least, and the kindergarten seems like a very nice place. By the end of the interview, it was clear that they were happy with me and wanted me to sign a contract right away (as did the other place). I got an e-mail address from one of the foreign teachers (or ‘native teachers’ as Koreans generally refer to us) and sent her a few questions, later on. Her answers weren’t as flattering to the hagwon as the message I got before starting my last job, but it didn’t seem at all terrible; she’s been there for going on for three years.

The biggest problem I’m likely to face is ‘psycho parents’, specifically mothers – those who complain about every little thing they possibly can. At least they’ll generally only interact with the Korean staff – which sucks for them, but provides a useful buffer for native teachers. Some unpaid Saturday work seems to be part of the job, too, but only two or three times a year … or so I’ve been assured.

At the moment there are three foreigners working there, but they’re all leaving in the near future and five more – including me – will be hired. Whatever the problems, the convenience of the location will make up for a lot of them.

So, I went back on Tuesday to sign a contract and the boss and head teacher and I spent about three hours going through the contract, printing off various versions and figuring out what I had to do to get my visa transferred to my new employer. As the job is starting on the 6th of January and my E-2 visa from my previous job was due to expire on the 19th of December I had thought that I would need to transfer to the job-seeking visa, the D-10 visa, and then transfer again to my new teaching visa.

However, after another call to Immigration, the head teacher told me I should transfer my visa to a new E-2 sponsored by my new job immediately. This involved printing out a new contract for Immigration purposes that stated that I started that day. They gave me some business registration documents and I promised to go to Immigration right then.

Which I duly did and, after waiting in line for a good while – long enough for me to fill in a couple of forms, contact my old boss for her business registration number, and my landlady to clarify our address, and still hang around for a good while – I was able to hand over the documents and my passport and my Alien Registration Card and they changed my visa and my address details within five minutes or so. Free of charge, too, which I wasn’t expecting.

Unfortunately, I forgot to pick up a copy of my police subject access letter, which my employer apparently needs in order to register me with the education board. So I took care of that today, by heading back to Omokgyo Station and thence to the Immigration building, waiting for a much shorter while in the same place as before – the room for visa extensions and stuff – but, when I got to the desk, I was told I needed to go up to the seventh floor.

So up the stairs I went, found a likely looking room and went in. A young woman working at a desk near the door seemed to know exactly what I wanted before I even said anything. Sure enough, at the desk where she told me to sit was an English translation of the form I needed to fill in, with the relevant boxes highlighted and containing example information. A few minutes later, I had a copy of the police letter and my degree certificate, too.

The other thing I needed to do – my new supervisor informed me – was get a new health check. I did a search for hospitals with English-language services and found that the closest to my home is St Mary’s Catholic Hospital, so I went there to try to get the health check done. I found the English-speaking clinic, but I was told to go to a different department and was led most of the way by an older man who complained about the smog that’s apparently blown over Korea from China.

In the other building, I found a place with ‘Visa Health Checks’ or something equally apposite over the door. The young male doctor and female office worker seemed very confused by what I was asking and wanted me to come back the following week when their office manager would return. After more inquiries, they got on the phone and then eventually told me to go to a different St Mary’s Hospital, this one at Yeouido – close to the Immigration building – in the morning.

After I later updated the head teacher on my progress, she gave me a further hospital to go to – Hanaro Medical Foundation, not too far away near Seolleung Station (I used to work near there in 2010). So I’ll go and do that, hopefully, tomorrow morning.

I may have to wait a couple of weeks for the health test results to come back – which could be a problem, as I won’t be in the country in a couple of weeks. Last night I booked tickets to fly back to the UK for a fortnight from the 16th of December. It was something I had been thinking of doing during the coming summer, but with some money in the bank and a month of free time, I might as well do it now. I imagine I can have the results posted to my new kindergarten.

When I go home, I plan to take back some of my read books along with various Korean foods and maybe drinks (soju?) as gifts. And I plan to bring back more books and board games. I generally say that there’s not much that I miss about England, but I’m actually looking forward to going home again. My sister had a fake, November Christmas for me last year; it’ll be nice to spend time with family for the real thing this year. I plan to introduce my neice and nephew to my board game, Islands of the Azure Sea.

I’m not so much looking forward to leaving my cat by herself for two weeks, though. My friends who live in the neighbouring flats would be happy to feed her, but I would to find someone to stay here so she doesn’t get too lonely. It’s a difficult thing to judge: would she be more stressed by being left alone or by having a stranger move in? Fortunately, I have some good, cat-loving friends who I think would be willing to help out.

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It happened a while ago, but I am finally getting around to blogging about my trip up to Seoul to attend the second day of the Hyundai City Break Festival. I was pretty excited about this when I heard about it because the love of my life, Metallica, were to headline the second day – and I’d never seen them live before. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was a little frustrating that it took a long time for single-day passes to become available (at the price of ₩165,000 – a bit less than £100; two-day passes were ₩250,000), but become available they did, and I bought one. None of my closer friends were attending, but I made plans to hook up with a couple of Englishpersons I’d met once (separately).

Getting a coach up to Nambu Terminal was easy enough. Finding somewhere to stay in the area nearby where there are a lot of motels was a little less straightforward. The first place I went to seemed a bit pricy at ₩50,000 for a night, but I walked around and asked in other places and it turned out to be the cheapest, so that’s where I stayed. I tried to take my room key with me when I left for the festival, but the desk ajumma wouldn’t have it, so I had to go back up to my room and retrieve the gigantic fob that activated the electrics and which I’d removed.

Wearing my Metallica T-shirt, I passed the touts near the entrance to Sports Complex subway station and headed towards one of the stadiums (stadia?). I queued up at one desk to get a little packet of stuff, and then at another for my pass. Well, there weren’t many people, so there wasn’t any actual queuing involved. Then I went in.

I took a look at the main stage (or Super Stage) first. It was in the stadium proper; a very loud, noisy metal band – Apollo 18 – were bashing out some loud, noisy noise. A field next to the stadium hosted the second stage (the Culture Stage); there were also places selling food and drink here. A smaller area closer to the entrance that might have been a car park held the third stage (the Music Stage); there were more food and drink places here. There were hundreds of dragonflies buzzing about anywhere there was grass.

And it was at the Music Stage that I saw one of my favourite bands of the day – not that I’d ever heard of them before – Southway – who are a British-Korean duo who play upbeat electro-rock. The guy and the girl were both very enthusiastic and always smiling – even though there were only a couple of dozen people watching them. It was lunchtime. They had a drummer, and for their finale, they both took to playing their own drums, which were set up next to them.

Southway

Then I met Fip – a friend of a friend down in Daegu. We got some food together (I’d figured out earlier that you couldn’t pay for the food with actual money – you had to use a traffic card, which you could buy and charge up at a couple of places near the food and drink stalls). We chatted and wandered around. Listened to a bit of Spyair – a poppy Japanese rock band – and a bit more of Rocket from the Crypt – an old punky alternative band who have a great song called ‘Hanging on a Rope’.

Rocket from the Crypt

Then it was time to meet Alex – a chap I’d met on a subway train with a bunch of other people who were with another acquaintance. Alex was with a few other people and together we watched Japandroids – a Canadian indie rock duo who looked like a couple of guys who had walked in off the street and decided to play the guitar and drums. Their song-writing skills were at a significantly lower level than that.

I went for a wander round and listened to Kim Chang-wan Band for a bit before heading back to meet the others for Ash. When I got there, Alex and his friends were talking to the two Japandroids; I didn’t interfere. Ash were OK. I don’t like their music at all, mainly because the singer has such weak, bored-sounding voice, but he showed a little more animation here and I warmed to them a tiny bit.

Ash

We had some food and briefly checked out a couple of the other acts – an old Korean funk-rock guitarist with long, white hair, Shin Jung-hyun, and the utterly generic American heavy rock band Rise Against.

Then we started waiting for Metallica.

Alex and his main friend had gone to camp out earlier, so we edged through people seated outside the moshpit area to rendezvous with them. We chatted for a bit and waited and sipped our water and waited as the crowds grew around us.

Metallica were supposed to have been on at nine o’clock. It was closer to nine-thirty when a clip of Eli Wallach wandering through a graveyard in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly started showing on the screens to the sound of Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ – Metallica’s intro music. After a few false starts caused by roadies adjusting things on the set, the crowd was pretty excited and everyone surged forwards a couple of steps. A volley of open and partly full water bottles rose into the air.

Finally, they were on stage and playing ‘Hit the Lights’ – the chorus of which got everyone jumping. There wasn’t too much banter as the show progressed – just song after song. Most of the set was older songs – giving people what they want, I guess. There were only two post-Black Album songs: ‘The Memory Remains’ and ‘Cyanide’ – played back to back. The end of ‘The Memory Remains’ was one of the highlights, actually; the audience took to singing the Marianne Faithful ‘na na-na na …’ part at the end … endlessly. The band stopped playing and just listened to the audience singing for a minute. And then abruptly launched into ‘Cyanide’. I imagine that happens every time they play that song.

Rob Trujillo

Another highlight was at the end of ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Most of the band had left the stage, leaving James Hetfield picking the melancholy E-minor arpeggio/riff. (The band did this a lot, disappearing from the stage while one person played alone, until, almost without transition, they were all back performing.) He fell to his knees facing away from the audience; the big screens zoomed in on his picking hand and he showed one side of his plectrum – it bore a Pushead skull logo – then he turned it around, displaying the classic Metallica logo – to a big cheer from the audience. An even bigger cheer followed when he started playing ‘Enter Sandman’.

James Hetfield

‘Enter Sandman’ was the last song in their main set, but after about ten minutes of the audience shouting for an encore, they came back to do three more songs. During this lull, Fip went home, fearing not being able to catch the subway; we’d lost the others earlier on as we inched forwards through the crowd. After the encore, it was over and I walked half of the way back to Nambu Terminal before realising it was quite a long way; then I caught a taxi.

I was tired, but satisfied: I’d finally seen Metallica live. The concert itself was pretty exhausting for the audience. Fip and I ended up pretty close to the front on the left hand side of the stage (as you looked at it). I’d brought a 500 ml bottle of water with me to the wait; I tried to ration it, but eventually it ran out and I crushed it under foot. Once the concert got going, it was hot and stuffy in the press of bodies. My view wasn’t amazing, but much better than thousands of other people. Some way into the performace, staff started handing out bottles of water, which people took a swig from and passed around (I developed a bit of a cold in the following week, possibly because of that). I saw one girl get lifted awkwardly over the barrier just in front of me.

Metallica gave a very polished performance. Their musicianship was as fantastic as you would expect from a 30-year-old band. There was a sense that this was just another performance for them, a late stop on a long round of touring. Hetfield, in one of his addresses to the audience, made a brief allusion to being late on stage, but no explanation was given. At the end of the concert, they spent a good few minutes walking along the stage, waving to people and throwing out picks (Lars Ulrich threw away some drum sticks). A barrage of big, black balloons was released. I didn’t get any goodies, unfortunately.

Metallica

So, it was a good day and a good Metallica performance. Not exactly life-changing, but I’m too old for that kind of stuff, anyway. I’m glad I did it, but I won’t be rushing to repeat the experience. Several years will pass before I’m likely to have the chance to see Metallica again. Apart from that, it was good to hang out with Fip and Alex and the others, and the early band, Southway, were surprisingly good – and I would consider seeing them again, which is a possibility as they seem to be based in Korea for the time being.

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A couple of weeks ago, I had an appointment on Monday morning at the hospital not far from my home – the one I’ve gone to for all my health needs so far – for my latest colonoscopy. I think my last one was probably in 2010, so I’m a little overdue for one. And, as I’ve had bad flare-ups every other year since about 2005, I’m pretty much due for another.

I told the doctor that I had to work in the afternoon, so he promised a ten o’clock appointment. It turned out to be eleven o’clock. Perhaps because of this, I wasn’t given a general anaesthetic like every other time I’ve had a colonoscopy in Korea. Wasn’t even given the option, actually.

Another difference to my previous experience was the laxative I was prescribed. The earlier ones were small bottles of vile fluid that I had to drink and follow up with two litres of water. This one was a powder that you dissolve in water and then drink. It had the same horrible, sweet-bleach taste, but was at least a lot milder. I couldn’t manage the whole dose in the evening, but in the morning I figured out that if you just down each 500 ml dose in one go, it wasn’t too bad. I drank an extra litre of water both morning and evening to make up for my under-dose.

The examination, then, wasn’t a huge amount of fun. I could watch the progess of the endoscope on the monitor, see the brown fluid in my gut get gurgled up by the tube, observe the flushes the doctor administered. With my lack of sleep and low blood sugar, I didn’t try too hard to follow it and instead just tried to relax. It was uncomfortable, but not unbearable (unlike the barium enema and bowel X-ray I had once on the NHS), and it was pretty weird to feel the endoscope poking my abdomen from the inside. The nurses moved me about a few times and squeezed my belly, perhaps to improve suction. The doctor took five biopsy samples, but I at least didn’t feel that.

The doctor told me afterwards that my colon was mostly healthy, but that I had – have – a ten-centimetre patch of inflammation in my upper large intestine that bled on touch. I’d already told him that my regular doctor was a specialist at Daehang Hospital in Seoul, so I got a CD with images from my exam and started thinking when I would go up for a consultation.

Later, at work, my boss gave me some fish jjigae to take home for dinner. I duly did, warming it up in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Later in the evening – while I was trying to go sleep, in fact – I started feeling a bit feverish and nauseous. I vomited up aforesaid dinner and worried about whether I’d merely contracted food poisoning or whether I’d suffered some horrific damage to my bowel and was now developing septicaemia.

The following day, I felt better, but was weak, so I took the day off work and went to Seoul to see my doctor there. He looked at the pictures from my examination and declared that I was fine. He didn’t prescribe any steroids for my inflamed bowel, nor anything for my bout of food poisoning. During the day, I was only able to eat half a small bowl of cereal and a few French fries for lunch. My guts weren’t too happy.

I recovered from all this over the next few days, but had occasional twinges in my colon in exactly the place the Cheonan doctor had told me I had the inflammation. These moments of discomfort have dwindled in frequency to more or less nothing, now, but I couldn’t help thinking the colonoscopy was more harm than help. I went back to the hospital last week for my biopsy results and they revealed no nasty surprises.

So, to keep my colitis under control, I think I just need to make sure I don’t fail to take my daily dose of mesalazine – all 3,400 milligrammes of it. At least the whole thing turned out to be a lot cheaper than I was expecting; really cheap, in fact: less than £20.

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The last few weekends have been a bit of a whirlwind of socialising for me. Which is pretty strange, given that I’m not only shy, but a shy introvert. I guess I’m finally discovering my inner extrovert. He’s been a shy chap most of my life. Someone once described that part of my personality as a monkey in a cave – every now and then he’d come out for a bit then duck back inside and hide.

Since my end of year holiday, I’ve:

been to see Life of Pi with a book group,

attended a Tolkien and the Inklings appreciation group,

attended the Life of Pi meeting with said book club,

been on a hike out near Chuncheon,

held two coffee mornings in Cheonan,

gone on a weekend ski trip to Yongpyeong – venue of next year’s Winter Olympics,

attended a Toastmasters event

and gone to a Father Ted-themed night out (with my black shirt and a homemade dog collar).

Add to that a good sprinkling of gaming and the faintest hint of romance (well – I met someone and we seemed to have a good rapport, but nothing further developed), and January has been a full month (actually, the latter couple of items on the list occurred in February). I’ve also met a bunch of new people. However, with my full weekends and full weekdays, I haven’t had much opportunity to write about all this stuff.

One of my new friends from New Year’s Eve invited me to a Tolkien and the Inklings group. I extended this invitation to my gaming friends; one of them suggested I should scope the group out first and report back on the number of weirdos in attendance; I countered that any of attending wouldn’t necessarily reduce the weirdo ratio. Although the meeting went on a bit long, it was pretty interesting. The organiser had prepared materials and talked about Owen Barfield and some of the philosophical underpinnings of the Inklings’ work. There’ll be another meeting in a couple of weeks.

As I have barely met anyone in Cheonan yet, I followed the example of my friend Peter, a resident of Daegu, and started a coffee morning group for Cheonan people. On the first such event, one person turned up, a woman I’d met at a small dinner event a couple of weeks earlier. We had a perfectly nice time chatting about work and life and stuff. I held the second one on Wednesday – more about that later.

The Mug

I went on a hike near Chuncheon in Gangwondo, which involved my taking the subway from Ssangyong in Cheonan to Sanbong in Seoul (about two and a half hours) then meeting the hiking group and heading east for another hour or more, still on the subway system. I hadn’t got much sleep and didn’t get much on the train, so I was pretty miserable by the time we started hiking, but a few conversations got my social brain in gear and I met some nice people.

Hikers

One of whom I went on a ski trip to Yongpyeong with (along her friends and a bus load of other foreigners). The skiing was good fun and, by the end of the evening session, I was fairly zipping down an intermediate slope time after time (while my fingers were getting terribly cold inside my gloves – when I went inside to warm up, they really hurt for a couple of minutes). I met more nice people.

Yongpyeong

One of whom invited me to Tedfest the following weekend – which was quite a modest affair in a bar out in Incheon, but the organisers put on various Father Ted-themed events, such as a Lovely Girls competition. I met further nice people, including – uniquely, in my experience in Korea – a Scouser. We got drunk.

I just had a great attendance at my second coffee morning event – seven people besides me. The conversation went pretty well, by an large; there were some slightly awkward lulls in the conversation, but they were fleeting and few. I didn’t really make a great effort to lead the conversation and it mostly took care of itself. At one point, one person suggested everyone say what their hobbies and interests were – which was a good idea, and one I may adopt and adapt for future meetings.

So now I’m going on a return trip to Chuncheon to pick strawberries on Saturday and I’m ‘hosting’ a ‘watching Die Hard 5’ event on Monday – which is a holiday here in Korea (Seollal – lunar new year – is actually a three day holiday, but because the other two days (actually, only the middle day is Seollal) fall on a Saturday and Sunday, they don’t count).

Life seems decidedly not too shabby at the moment. It’s actually become a bit of a mission for me to do all this stuff and develop as a human being. Maybe, one day, I’ll become the confident, charismatic leader of men I’ve always dreamed of being. Until then, I’m just me.

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… 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 first official day of my holiday, Wednesday the 26th, passed uneventfully. I did a bit of writing, picked up the rest of my medicine, discovered I somehow wasn’t covered by national health insurance, contacted my boss then heard from her that someone at the government had made a mistake and it should be sorted out by the next day. Later, I dropped some shirts at a dry cleaners for ironing, got a haircut, went to a kimbap place for dinner – where I met Namy, my other colleague; she’s off to America for a month soon, so she was with her replacement, a young Korean guy who used to be a student at the hagwon. They were both on their dinner break – the guy is evidently replacing me, too, while I’m off.

Afterwards, I watched Sucker Punch – which was better than I thought it was going to be. A little, anyway. It was completely silly – a mish-mash of computer game cut-scenes linked by a non-sensical escape plot framed within a deceptive melodrama. It worked, though; it was visually spectacular and perfectly well acted. I particularly liked the fantasy-within-a-fantasy structure and the denouement was pretty bold. I could have done without the pretentious voiceovers at the beginning and end.

I had a fairly early start the next day. I packed my suitcase for five days in Seoul, picked up my shirts, packed one, and headed off to the railway station.

I got off at Yeongdeungpo in western Seoul, where I met Helena, a very sweet woman I worked with when I worked in Gangnam. She drove us to a Homeplus, where we had shabu-shabu for lunch (shabu-shabu is a kind of soup that cooks on a hob on your table; this particular place was buffet-style, so you picked your own ingredients to go in the watery stock: bean sprouts, bak choi, spring onions, beef, baby octopuses, prawns etc; the man on the till when we left told us it was a Mongolian dish, though Helena said it’s common all over east Asia and Wikipedia says it’s Japanese but originally from China). We talked about our lives in the past few years; she told me what she knew of the other people we worked with. She seems very happy and know has her own cottage industry making leather wallets, passport cases and suchlike.

Afterwards, I headed to Sinsa and to Zach’s place. Zach’s out of the country, visiting friends and family in the States, but he very kindly agreed to let me stay there while I was up in Seoul. I retrieved the key from its super secret hiding place and let myself in. I got on the internet and signed up for a New Year’s Eve party; then I went to the KEB handily located just across the main road to transfer funds pay for it.

As I was thinking of what to do next, I remembered my friend Ji-hyeon. I’d sent her a couple of e-mails telling her I was due back in the country, but had had no reply. I searched my mails for a phone number for her and texted a message to it. A minute later she called and we arranged to meet an hour later. Fortuitously enough, she has recently started working in Sinsa, so she came straight from work to meet me for a coffee (well, she had hot chocolate).

The last time I saw her was at her wedding. She sent me an e-mail earlier in the year telling me she was pregnant; she now has a four-month-old baby boy. She showed me a video, and he’s a happy, bonny baby – they usually are. We caught up on each other’s lives, but we had barely an hour together as she wanted to get home to her son and husband.

I ate dinner then headed to Hongdae to meet Mary. I don’t know Mary so well, having only really met her a few times, but she’s a lovely person, so when she texted me in response to my Facebook message about my new phone number I was glad to arrange to meet her. We had a quite serious and occasionally gruesome conversation over a couple of drinks in a couple of bars. And we made arrangements to meet again today with Matthew for a Mary-led tour of Ewha Women’s University, where she’s a student.

And that’s what I’ll be doing very soon. This holiday is turning out to be extremely packed with social events and socialsing: seeing my three friends yesterday, meeting Mary and Matthew today, gaming tomorrow, hiking with a group on Sunday, New Year’s Eve party on Monday, dinner with some Cheonan people on Wednesday (I’ll finally get to meet some Cheonanites! (besides those I work with)). So much social interaction is quite unlike me, but, being stuck down in Cheonan and working the hours that I work, I feel that I have to take advantage of all such opportunities I can.

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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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