Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘South Korea’

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.

Read Full Post »

The past month or so has been one of those transitional times – but it’s been good.

My job was always a pretty low-key affair. Many hagwons for elementary and middle school children put on events for Halloween and Christmas; apart from putting all of our kids into the one room to play games and have food, there was no great to-do this October. Nevertheless, I had most of my kids skip their studies for a class or two to make Halloween decorations – even the older kids who no longer have many opportunities for fun stuff in their schooling. I even played zombie (blindfold tick) in my classroom with my all-girl class (plus one boy, Brian, who always comes at the same time as the girls but usually studies separately – when he joins the female class, I call him Briana).

Some students produced some excellent artwork, too.

Emily's Witch

Seung-ho's Death

Tony's Vampire

And then my leaving date started to draw near. I was thrown three separate parties – one with my mixed elemetary school class plus the girls, one with my high-level middle school class and one with my younger middle school class. The middle one of these classes put up balloons and bought me a fancy quattro-style cake. In the other parties, we had fried chicken on Monday and pizza on Friday. It was probably the most fuss that’s ever been made over me for leaving a job. From what they tell me, Korean kids will spontaneously organise things like this with their own money; I don’t recall that ever happening when I was at school.

Leaving Party Balloons

In addition to leaving parties at work, I had a final coffee morning meeting and a meal and drinks (and games) with a bunch of friends from both inside and outside Cheonan. It wasn’t the mega-party of my birthday, but it was good fun and it was great to see people there.

It was my hope when I was looking for a job last year to find something in Seoul, but I had hardly any offers of interviews; one recruiter told me in an e-mail that he couldn’t really do anything for me as I didn’t live in Korea. The job that I eventually took in Cheonan was actually the first offer that I had, but it seemed like a very good place to work – and thus it proved. And it got me back into the country.

I am lucky enough to have really fallen on my feet when it comes to finding somewhere to live in Seoul. My two friends, Matthew and Zach live next door to each other and the flat next door to them has been empty for a long time. As the landlord kept the door unlocked, we were able to have a look around the place together a couple of times. It’s bigger than their places, although the bathroom is much smaller, so I was concerned that it would be too expensive. But they both disagreed and were enthusiastic about the prospect of me moving in there.

I asked them to ask the landlord what the rent would be and the answer was ₩650,000 (£375) a month with a key money deposit of ₩5,000,000 (£2,900) – the same as both of my friends’ places. And that pretty much settled it. I made arrangements to pay the landlord in a couple of phases, as I wouldn’t have all the money until I got my last month’s salary and bonus, and went and signed a contract.

I asked my friend Peter if he’d help me move if I paid his expenses, but his wife pointed out that it would be pretty expensive to drive from Daegu to Cheonan and on to Seoul and all the way back again. So she suggested that her father could do it for a reasonable fee (a third of the ₩300,000 my boss said it would cost to hire a small lorry). And he did. Shortly before I moved, I’d taken a few things up to leave at Zach’s place; if I’d been more assiduous I would have taken more on different occasions. It turned out to have been a good idea, as Peter’s father-in-law’s car got filled to the roof with all my stuff. My cat sat quietly in her case on my lap on the way up.

I’ve been there a while now and am very happy with the place. Having a bedroom in addition to the main area is quite a luxury. Even though the place is not massive, it’s still pretty big – so much so that it feels a little empty. Shortly after I moved in I invited a few people over for a flat-warming party; I made vegetable bolognese and we played games until two in the morning. My only real concern about the place was the mouldy smell – which is starting to fade, or at least be hidden, now that I’m cooking there. I’ll have to make sure the mould doesn’t get any worse.

The next step, of course, is to find a job. This has been going well. I had four interviews before I left my last job, travelling up to Seoul early in the morning on the subway and heading back to Cheonan by express bus at lunchtime, of which I was offered two positions. I turned them both down; in the case of the first, I didn’t like the boss, and the second was too far to commute every day.

After a slow start where I concentrated on cleaning and unpacking and buying a few extra things that I needed from the nearby Daiso (mmm, Daiso), I got my job search back on track again last week. By the end of the week, I was starting to get invitations to interviews – and I had two seemingly successful interviews on Monday, one of which was at a kindergarten very close to where I live. Even if nothing comes of these particular jobs, it leaves me feeling pretty confident about future prospects.

The only potential fly in the ointment now is getting a D-10 visa (my E-2 visa, sponsored by my last job, expires a month after I finished working, ie, mid- to late December). This is a ‘looking-for-work’ visa, and to qualify for it, I will probably need to prove that I can support myself in the country until I get a job. I can support myself – but my money is all in my British accounts and I don’t know if that will be a problem. It seems like getting the D-10 is usually not a big deal.

And that’s my life at the moment, work-wise. 2013 was a good year. I think expectations are the surest path to disappointment and frustration, but I have pretty high hopes for 2014.

Read Full Post »

A couple of weeks ago was the Korean harvest festival called Chuseok – a three-day holiday that, this year, fell on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, thus creating a five-day weekend. In addition, my delayed summer holiday followed on immediately, giving me twelve consecutive days of non-work.

On Wednesday, I held a coffee morning here in Cheonan, which got a pretty good turn-out. I was given a late birthday present of some chocolate cake/pie, which was very tasty. Afterwards, three of us set out on a quest to locate a cat café in Cheonan – in which we eventually succeeded.

The following day, Chuseok Day itself, I headed up to Seoul and met a group of friends for a walk around Gyeongbokgung – the main royal palace. It was busier than I’d expected and pretty warm, but we had a good time looking at the fantastic architecture, posing for photos and browsing the exhibits in the Folk Museum. After that, we had food and drink in a Bukchon café and played card games. I’d told people I wanted to see a film in the evening, but that didn’t pan out; those of us still remaining had dinner at a cheap Korean restaurant in Insadong before heading home.

Gyeongbokgung

Actually, I headed to Zach’s home, as I’d invited another group of friends to a day of gaming in Sinsa on Friday. We only actually played two games. The first was a Burning Wheel one-shot run by Peter – which, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to actually be a one-shot which is to say, we finished it on the day).

Our disparate group of characters were supposed to retrieve an Elixir of Life from a dragon’s hoard to give to a dying princess. Most of us had ulterior motives. The game ended with the prince drinking the elixir himself (thus becoming immortal) and escaping with a magic sword of truth and killing one of the last surviving characters causing the victim to come back as a ghost and haunt him. Our cheer at this happy conclusion caused the coffee shop staff to ask us to be quiet. After dinner we played my game Islands of the Azure Sea, which I’d just updated. I’m starting to think a maximum of eight players is rather too many.

I had a wedding to go to on Saturday, then, on Sunday, I met Natasha – an Englishwoman I and my ex-girlfriend met while volunteering on a farm in Iceland, and who was visiting Korea for a couple of weeks – and Alisha a friend from the Tolkien reading group. We headed back to my place so Natasha could drop off her bag, and they peered at my cat in her hiding place. Then we went up to Sinbu-dong, the city centre area, and spent an hour at the cat café (which is called The Cat) that I’d previously located. Jocelyn joined us while we were there.

The café is divided into two areas, a larger area with the entrance and counter and so on, and then a smaller, but still reasonably big, area partitioned off with a large window running the length of one side and glass sliding doors on another side. Before going in here – which is where the cats hang out – you have to change your footwear for cheap rubber sandals and clean your hands with disinfectant, as well as putting your possessions in a locker.

The Cat Café

When I was there the first time, the owner told me he had eighteen cats. They include a Maine coon, a Scottish fold, an American curl, a sphynx or two, some oriental shorthairs, a couple of munchkins and others. The cats – apart from the munchkins – are all very friendly and seem quite happy. The Maine coon has its back shaved, for some reason, and one or two cats with long fur look like they could do with a bath – I’m not sure if their greasy fur indicates an illness or the fact that they get petted a lot by people with sweaty hands. There was one big cat – an Abyssinian, I think – that gave all of us a hug.

After the cat café, we went to the Arario Gallery – which I’d never been to in my ten months in Cheonan. I got Alisha and Jocelyn to pose next to a couple of Anthony Gormley sculptures. The current exhibition was by a Korean artist called CI Kim and included an interesting range of media, from found art washed up on a beach to big plastic triangles to paintings of children holding emotive signs.

Buddha Statue

We went for coffee downstairs in the Coffee Bean. Jocelyn left us, but Eve joined us, and after a bit we met Mike and Tera and their friend Brandon for a trip to Taejosan, a nearby mountain, home to Gakwonsa, a Buddhist temple with a big Buddha sculpture. After looking around the temple, we had dinner at a vegetarian buffet restaurant. Then we (minus Alisha, who had to return home) headed back to Mike and Tera’s for a game of Cards Against Humanity.

On Monday, Natasha and I started carrying out our plan to head down to Busan and see some of the south coast. We got to the KTX station in Cheonan nice and early and therefore arrived in Busan nice and early. We hadn’t identified anywhere specific to stay, but we decided on Haeundae because there are plenty of hotels, motels and suchlike around there. Our plan was to ask at a few places and see what was reasonable in terms of price. In the event, we checked out a small pension first and at ₩50,000 for a room for the two of us it seemed OK and our search came to an end. We probably could have found some where nicer, but it was par for the course for Korean pensions.

Mermaid Statue

We walked up an down the beach. It was sunny and breezy and a big embankment of sand had been built for the forthcoming Busan International Film Festival festivities. The purpose of this wall, we could only guess at. We had a burger for lunch at a fancy-ish burger place – best burger ever, according to Natasha – then walked around the coast towards Gwangan. We took pictures of the mermaid statue and the fourteenth century (or earlier) Hae Un Dae carving in the rock, walked around the APEC conference building, craned our necks at the blue skyscrapers and tried to find the Busan Museum of Art. When we finally located it, it was closed – it was Monday. We had a coffee at a Twosome Place (no, really – it’s one of the many coffee shop chains in Korea) and played cards.

APEC House and Gwangan Bridge

Then we took the subway and walked to Busan Museum – also closed. So we walked up the hill to the Cultural Centre, finding a friendly cat on the way. Natasha marvelled at the chandeliers in the concert hall lobby and we watched some musicians have their photo taken on the plaza outside. We went back to Gwangalli and had seafood for dinner, watched the lights on the bridge and a lightshow projected on the rain from a jet of water.

Gwangalli Beach

The next morning, we spent an hour on the subway to the Intercity Bus Terminal, an hour on a coach to Gohyeon – the main city, it seems, on Geoje Island – then well over an hour on a bus out to Haegeumgang. Actually, the driver dropped us off at a nearby village – even though the route information said the bus terminated a Haegeumgang – and we had to wait for another bus for another ten minute ride.

As we hadn’t really researched exactly where we wanted to go, I asked a ticket clerk at the bus station in Gohyeon what was a good beach to visit and she recommended Haegeumgang and told us which bus to take. Haegeumgang is a picturesque, rocky island and it has no beach – so I may have used a word that translates more accurately as ‘coast’. We didn’t take a ferry around the island, but, after a lunch of more seafood, we walked up a nearby hill to a view platform with great views in most directions. When I tried to reach the actually summit, I found it to be closed with a padlocked, barbed wire-encircled door.

Haegeumgang

After missing two buses, we took a taxi back to Gohyeon (₩17,000) and a coach back to Busan, then subwayed to the Museum of Art – which was open. The museum was pretty massive, but its spaciousness made it seem like there wasn’t that much stuff in it. We wandered around all the galleries, admiring, in particular, a collection of works about Korean-Japanese relations, such as the painting of two dogs biting each other, a series of woodcuts telling the story of a Japanese-run mine and a huge mural of corpses and Buddha statues based on the Gwangju massacre.

We headed back to the pension for a shower, had dinner at the burger place and met Jessica for an all too brief chat.

The next day, we headed back to the Bus Terminal, with all our bags this time, and caught a coach to Suncheon. Once we’d checked in to a hotel – Hotel BMW, ₩35,000 for a room – we caught a bus out to Suncheon Bay Ecological Park – the site of Korea’s biggest wetland.

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park

We dutifully walked around the museum first, reading and forgetting various bits of information about wetlands, then looked for something to eat in the ‘cafeteria’ and the ‘convenience store’. Rather inconveniently, as we were both hungry, they had nothing more than small pastries and crisps. After eating a packet of crisps each (actually, mine was a dried tofu snack), we started walking through the wetlands on jetty-like walkways, taking pictures of the massive fields of reeds and the occasional heron, crab and bunch of mudskippers.

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park 2

On the far side of the reed fields, we walked up the familiarly named Yongsan, a forested hill with an observation platform looking out over the bay. I took lots of photos of the view, including distant hills and islands and the circular reed beds on the coast. Natasha was particularly taken with the maroon-ish colour of some of the vegetation.

After a convenience store lunch and a brief encounter with a couple of Mormon girls (one Korean, one from Salt Lake City), we headed back into town and then out again to Seonamsa on another pretty long bus ride. We walked around this Buddhist temple at dusk as the monks were performing some sort of ceremony. This began with monks taking turns to perform epic drum solos on a giant drum in the entrance building (on the ground floor of which was a shop, the attendant of which harassed Natasha as she looked around). Then the monks gathered in one of the halls for chanting and praying. It was nice and peaceful; there were a few other tourists around, but not many.

Buddhist Drumming

The following day – Thursday – was our last day together and we decided to check out Yeosu Expo – the site of a world exposition last year. I was a little confused about what was going on there because there was also a garden expo in the area, but that turned out to be in Suncheon. Yeosu is close to Suncheon, but is a separate town. Yeosu Expo is also a terminus of a KTX line, so it seemed like a good place to head back home from.

Yeosu Expo

Unfortunately, there was really nothing going on at Yeosu Expo – there was some sort of ‘character festival’ for kindergarteners and the nearby aquarium seemed to be open for business. Most of the exhibition halls were closed and empty and the whole place seemed a bit sad and dilapidated for something that is only a year old. We had a strange French toast-croque-monsieur thing and a drink in a café on the site and played some cards then caught our train home. It was a regular train rather than KTX – four hours to Cheonan, five to Seoul – as it was at the most convenient time.

It was great to spend time with Natasha and quite satisfying to use my minimal expertise to show her around. It was also good to finally have my summer week off work, even though it was a pretty tiring round of early starts and long bus and train rides. It was also a little weird to consider that Natasha is a link to my ex-girlfriend and that our lives are pretty close, but completely divorced from each other. But it’s only loneliness that makes me dwell on this, I suppose. But Natasha was great company – it was lovely to spend time with someone as good-natured as her; her being British was a bonus, too.

Natasha and Sean

Although there was lots of moving around, this short, concentrated burst of travelling works quite well, I think. Busan is a great place to spend a couple of days on holiday, and there are lots of places on the south coast that would be worth exploring; the little that we saw was very pleasant – even Yeosu Expo had a certain charm. The experience makes me want to explore more of the country – just not necessarily by myself.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Today, instead of working from two to nine-thirty, I got up early and joined the majority of my students on a trip to a water park near Cheonan. I arrived at the meeting point at a nearby bus stop and found no one there. So I waited a bit and some of the kids walked past, so I followed them to the big red coach that was waiting a few metres away.

The bus was far too big for our needs. It could have seated the better part of fifty passengers, but had about two dozen people including the boss, the Korean teacher and me. The drive took less than half an hour.

Once at Tedin Water Park, we lined up for a bit – well, the kids did; I hung about to one side – and a member of staff gave everyone a device that looked like a young girl’s watch. It was the locker ‘key’. Inside, we deposited our footwear in a small locker, then entered the changing rooms. As there was a gaggle of children – not all of them ours, it seemed – in front of my main locker I decided to just sit and wait.

Eventually, I was changed and had covered myself in sunscreen and was ready to go outside. We were all given life jackets; I didn’t put mine on, but eventually relented and wore it. Many of the kids – and visitors – seemed overdressed. Most people seemed to wear at least a T-shirt in addition to their swimming costume – perhaps a lightweight hoodie, too. There were a few young women who walked around in bikinis only, but their dryness and lack of life jackets indicated that they had no interest in going into the water.

Tedin Waterpark

I felt kind of miserable for the first part of the morning. There were too many people and I felt like a fish out of water, not really knowing what to do. I went off by myself for a bit and found a quiet area to look over the park. Then I decided I should get over it and decided to find some of our children.

I was rescued from my funk by some of the elementary school girls, who grabbed me and pulled me to this feature that consisted of a channel that looped around much of the outer part of the facility. There were hundreds of big inflatable rings being used or floating freely. Close to the entrance, there was a section where huge gush of water thundered into the channel and propelled everyone forwards a few metres.

I wasn’t allowed entry at first because I didn’t have a hat, but one of the girls gave me hers and she put up her hood. Like the life jackets, it seemed like a strange, overly protective measure, but the thousands of people who must pass through every day are probably capable of shedding a fair amount of hair.

Tedin Waterpark 2

It turned out to be quite fun. The girls escorted me to a big wave pool, which wasn’t quite as exciting, but at least afforded a tiny bit more space in which to actually swim a few metres. There was a big ride called the Tsunami, but it seemed to have a really long queue, so no one wanted to go on that (the elementary kids were probably too young, anyway). We did go one slide. The chute was covered so you shot down in complete blackness apart from the start and the end. The joins in the chute bumped my shoulder blades in an almost painful way.

Lunch was bizarrely early at about 11:10. We seemed to have an assigned time as well as assigned seating in a cafeteria that was separate from the food court. The food was a bit prison-ish: a white plastic tray with modest amounts of rice, bulgogi, kimchi and (for some reason) corn, plus a bowl of watery but tasty soup with those beige spongy things that I’m not sure I know the name for. It wasn’t exactly filling, but I suppose swimming on a full stomach is not so pleasant.

At lunch, my boss let me know that she wanted me to make a decision about whether I would sign on for another year or leave in November by Monday.

The afternoon progressed much as the morning had – except that there were twice as many people. I retrieved my own hat from my locker (and reapplied sunblock). As the younger kids couldn’t go into the deeper parts of the wave pool, I kept losing them when I came out. If I’d stuck with them, I might have had more fun, or at least kept busy, but whenever I was on my own I was at a loose end.

Eventually, I decided I’d had enough and went and showered and changed. I noticed in the mirror that I was a little pink where my skin had been exposed to the sun. The backs of my feet and hands and arms had a very mild sting of sunburn, but they seem OK now. I came back out into the water park area wearing my jeans, T-shirt and backpack, but barefoot. I was about in time to meet up with everyone as they got ready to leave.

So the day wasn’t terrible – I had some fun and the kids certainly seemed to enjoy themselves (all but one older boy who told me towards the end that he was angry because he’d been given responsibility for looking after the youngsters). I’d never been to one of these places before. It hadn’t really been a priority. I’m not sure that I’d ever want to return to a water park – not unless it was on a weekday outside of holiday season and I was with someone who would encourage my playful side.

Read Full Post »

The possibility of getting skin cancer has been on my mind for some time. I have lots – lots – of mole, several quite big. They’re mostly on my back and seem to a have grown and multiplied imperceptibly over the years. Having moles and freckles is associated with a higher risk of getting skin cancer (although I’ve also read that having many moles is also connected to ageing more slowly – those of you who know me well won’t be surprised at that). It’s really about time I saw a dermatologist.

Which is what I did a couple of weeks ago.

Now You've Really Seen the Back of Me

On the Monday, I went to a hospital in Cheonan that was recommended by my boss, Soonchunhyang University Hospital. I went into one building and inquired after the 피부과, or skin clinic, and was directed to a neighbouring building. In the lobby there I spoke to a member of staff who spoke English and she explained that I should get a referral from another 피부과 first. I was given some directions and headed off there in a taxi.

This skin clinic – 퀸 피부과, ‘Queen’ – was also a cosmetic surgery place. It was a bit rhinestoney – kind of down-market princess chic. My presence there seemed to be equally confusing to the staff and the female clients. But I took my T-shirt off for the doctor and he figured out want I wanted. Eventually, I was sent on my way with a piece of paper.

I headed to a nearby Starbucks to do some work on one of my games.

The following day, I went back to the hospital and saw a dermatologist there. He gave my torso a fairly cursory examination and said that they would take a biopsy from the darkest mole – or naevus – on my back.

A younger man did the procedure. I lay on my front and he anaesthetised the area, used some device to punch a small hole in my back, then sewed it up with a couple of stitches. The sample was a little cone of skin a bit less than a centimetre tall and about half a centimetre across the base (the skin surface), pinkish-greyish-brownish in colour. I was told to keep it dry and was prescribed some medication and told to get iodine and waterproof plasters. I was to come back the following week to get the biopsy result and have the stitches out.

Diminished Mole

The mole is a little to the left of my spine, but pretty much in the middle of my back. Not easy to reach oneself. However, with a little daily practice, I got fairly proficient at wiping the stitches with damp tissue, dabbing it with iodine and putting on a fresh plaster (the waterproof plasters were excellent – they have a slightly rigid plastic covering that keeps them straight when you’re putting them on, they really are waterproof, they don’t peel and they don’t leave much of a sticky residue behind). I took the medicine – antibiotics, I think – most of the time, but had a few left at the end of the seven days. The wound didn’t bother me at all.

I went back the following Tuesday and the dermatologist told me the result was negative – there was no sign of cancer – in that mole, at any rate. I wonder whether some of my other moles ought to be tested, as well, just to make sure. I’m going to try to keep an eye on them – on the irregular ones, anyway. Having the stitches removed was quick and painless.

I walked home feeling pretty good that I’d finally done the right thing, but conscious that it may not be the end of the story.

Read Full Post »

It’s been over a month now since I turned 37. Life is going well in many respects – but it’s also pretty tiring.

I think it’s fair to say that my birthday celebrations were a great success. About twenty people came to the meal at a British-style fish and chips place in Sinchon in Seoul called Battered Soul. The menu wasn’t very diverse – the was little choice outside fish and chips – but they had plenty of beer and most people were satisfied with what they got (one American friend was somewhat disappointed by the fish cakes – she had never had them before). I got Guinness-battered cod and chips – along with a pint of Guinness.

After that, we headed off to Hongdae, where we went for drinks at a hookah bar (my sister had been rather confused when I told her this via Skype; my default pronunciation of ‘hookah’ is the same as ‘hooker’); after that, we went to Luxury Noraebang – a fancy karaoke place; and after that, those remaining went to a bar/club for another drink or two and dancing.

It was a long and tiring but very satisfying night. I’m very grateful to all those who came out with me – most of whom were friends that I’ve made since I returned to Korea in November. I think it’s a mark of how much I’ve developed as a person, even in just the last seven months, that so many people chose to celebrate with me.

And, although I’m not going on as many tour group trips as I did in my first few months back in the country, I’m continuing to meet new people. There have been several birthdays in the last six or seven weeks, and I’ve met new people at all of them – even my own; and there are more birthdays in the coming few weeks. I’m also continuing with my coffee mornings – I met several new people just yesterday – and I’ve attended a local language exchange group a couple of times. In Seoul, the meetings of the Tolkien discussion group are going well, and we’ll be talking about The Hobbit soon (stayed up far too late last night reading it – the hot weather is not conducive to sleep).

Finally, I’m organising little events of my own to try to bring some of my acquaintances together and develop those tentative relationships into more solid friendships. I got a few people together recently to see the new Star Trek film – an action-packed disappointment, by the way – and I will be getting some people together to go to a rose festival and modern art exhibition at Seoul Grand Park on Saturday.

I’ve been stepping up my efforts to learn Korean and, to this end, I’ve started attending classes twice a week. My teacher is a Korean woman who takes various lessons in the living room of her apartment near to where I live. She is very sweet and very patient – which latter quality is essential for teaching me, as my brain hates being forced to communicate in an alien tongue. I’m slowly getting there, though. I feel more comfortable speaking Korean with my Seoul-based language exchange partner – but she’s always off travelling the world, so I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like.

My cat, Acalia, is really starting to act like a real pet – as is her duty, of course. It’s been a slow process, but she has continually built up her confidence and her liking for me has grown and grown. Whereas previously, I’d come home and not see her, and she hardly ever made a sound, these days, she is generally keen to get attention. I always find her lying on the bed when I come back home. When I enter the living room, she hurriedly gets off the bed – she’s still quite skittish – but then she follows me around and meows continuously, though not annoyingly, until I spend some time petting her.

She still doesn’t like being picked up for more than a couple of seconds and, when I move to pet her, she will sometimes either avoid me or duck her head as if she’s afraid of being struck. But she purrs very readily once I start stroking her and she enjoys the attention. She also like to chase stringy things. I made a toy out of a pizza box ribbon and the handle of a spatula (the rubber head of which I use as a cat fur-remover) and it never fails to rouse her interest.

If I offer her a finger to sniff, she always bites it – which I have mixed feelings about. It’s cute, but it’s also a bad habit that I should maybe try to wean her off. She also has very watery eyes – a feature of her breed (exotic shorthair), apparently. It wouldn’t be too bad if her eyes were merely watery, but the liquid that gathers around her eyes is pretty gunky. She leaves spots of dried, brown fluid all over the place. I clean her eyes with damp kitchen towel, which, naturally, she doesn’t like, but she doesn’t fight against it too much.

I also made her a bed out of a big cardboard box that contained my new fan. The bed has an open compartment and a closed compartment. I cut my old bathmat in half to carpet each side of it, and I made an arch strut for the covered side so it doesn’t collapse when she sits on the top – or jumps on to it, as it’s right under the window.

Work is going well. I’m taking advantage of the relaxed regime to do some more creative but English-related things with my classes. For instance, in the past week or so, I’ve had many of my kids making wordsearches and crosswords. Now that I’m more than halfway through my contract and near halfway through the calendar year, I’m starting to think about what I will do in the next six months or so. Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a good while, and I pretty much know what my plan is; I’m just starting to worry more about what exactly to do. The downside of keeping busy at weekends is that I don’t have much time to dedicate to the thought and research needed for this planning. That’s something I should schedule for the coming weeks – before it’s too late.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »