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Posts Tagged ‘work’

Given that I had some time off before I started work, I decided to fly back to Britain for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t particularly a Christmas visit – it was just a coincidence that that event fell during my work hiatus, and it seemed like the perfect time to be back with my family.

I flew with Finnair (yes – boarding my flights, I disappeared into Finnair) via Helsinki airport. Both ways, I was a little anxious about my baggage. On the way there, I hid my small backpack in my carry-on suitcase, taking it out once I’d passed through security. On the way back, I was a little concerned about the weight of my big backpack, containing, as it did, several books in addition to clothing and suchlike, but it only weighed 17kg – well under the 23 kg limit (but still a bugger to swing on to and off my back).

I also paid extra to bring my guitar (a Mexican Fender Stratocaster) in its flight case back with me to Korea; even though it was well wrapped in plastic the case suffered a little damage – the guitar is OK, though. It’s been fun playing it in the past few days, although a) I do regret not getting over to my late grandparents’ home to pick up my Metallica music books and b) it’s given me a flare-up of sciatica, for which I will try to resume my back exercises.

At Helsinki, it was rather charming to see the airport staff getting around on adult-sized push scooters.

I barely had chance to unload my backpack and share the wealth of Korean snacks I’d brought back with my family, and to have an early Christmas dinner with – amazingly – my whole family, before I headed down to Bath to spend a couple of days with my friend Alex, and then to Bristol to do likewise with my friend Lawrence and his girlfriend Yi Vei. I got them all Korean snacks, too – including the ever-popular Pepero.

Alex and I, accompanied much of the time by his friend Jason, spent pretty much all our waking hours playing Magic: The Gathering with a little Munchkin and Islands of the Azure Sea on the side. My Magic decks didn’t do very well, as Alex has recently got back into the game and has much more of the recent powerful stuff than I do – and Jason is an adept newcomer to the game.

Before catching my train to Bristol, Alex and I visited Waterstone’s, where he bought me a bunch of Magic cards and card sleeves and I bought him Star Munchkin.

Lawrence and Yi Vei took me to a burger restaurant, Atomic Burger, that was decked out in old toys and where all the burgers had the names of American icons – I got a Johnny Cash. The following day, I was supposed to take part in Lawrence’s workshop at a Buddhist centre, but I had a terrible headache from not drinking enough before bed and sleeping too long. I felt bad about dropping out, but I was far too grumpy to join in the spirit of it.

Once back in Whaley Bridge at my sister’s place I spent much of the time playing board games with her, her kids, her boyfriend, her kids’ aunt. They enjoyed my Islands of the Azure Sea game; as usual, I’d modified the rules since playing it previously, which helped to balance the gameplay. I got them Forbidden Island and Catan Junior as gifts and we enjoyed them, too. I bought Munchkin Cthulhu along with its Call of Cowthulhu expansion for myself and got to try that out.

Other plans – like blogging, working my new game idea The Hell War, reading a friend’s novel, researching MA courses in Seoul – were pretty much forgotten. As Alex and Lawrence are two of my oldest and best friends I prioritised visiting them, and that, along with Christmas, limited my ability to see other friends. Another time.

In addition to my guitar and Munchkin Cthulhu, I also brought back my Monopoly and Scrabble as well as Civilization, a board game (which predates Sid Meier’s Civilization computer game) my parents got me about ten years ago and which I’ve only ever played once (and I cut that game short when my friends decided to change the rules as we were playing). I also got Stephen R Donaldson’s recent last book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Last Dark, Iain (M) Banks’s last book before his death last year, The Quarry, Robert Rankin’s latest, The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Foul and Filthy Fiends, Philip Pullman’s Grim Tales, Swords & Dark Magic and Strange Dreams – both anthologies, the latter edited by Stephen Donaldson. Finally, I ordered and received a small pile of unusual dice and brought them back along with all my other dice.

Since then, I’ve played Civilization with my friend Peter and Munchkin Cthulhu with some other friends – Matthew, Erica and Jihyena – celebrated the New Year with meat, uninspiring fireworks, drink and card games and paid my rent for January, leaving me with precious little money until I get paid some time later in the month. I’ll be living on my credit card until then.

I start work on Monday and I feel pretty ambivalent about it. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but I want to get the initial period over with and settle in as fast as possible, and also get used to getting up early every day. It seems like there are lots of documents to get used to dealing with and probably not much time during normal working hours to fill them all out. And the kids’ mums are apparently the kind that love to complain about everything. I should just try and keep my head and enjoy teaching the kids as much as possible.

I’m sure I’ll be back in a month or two to report on my progress.

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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.

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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 met the director again at 12 o’clock and she took me to a nearby restaurant for lunch – and when I say nearby, it was just a couple of building up the street from the hagwon. She was friends with the woman who worked there – the woman’s son being one of our star pupils, apparently. The food was decent – I went for bulgogi and mushroom stew, which actually isn’t one of my favourite; there was a good selection of side dishes on small, attractive plates.

I mentioned to Julie that I’d had to buy a load of stuff and she said she could give me some things. I also asked if I could have an advance on my salary – which isn’t going to be paid in full until I’ve actually worked a full month (being such a small school, there’s no official pay day). She said she’d think about it. Lunch turned out to be free – and not just for me.

We crossed the street back to the school and Julie opened up and talked me through the schedule, writing it all out for me. My hours are from 2 to 9:30 pm and my classes are pretty evenly split between classes of six to eight students and classes of only one student; essentially, I’ll be providing private lessons to several kids once or twice a week. I wasn’t told of any major preparations needed for classes, but a couple of my ‘privates’ don’t have books, so I’ll have to think of some way of passing an hour with them. The schedule includes an hour or an hour and half of preparation time at the start of each working day, however. I have a break of half an hour at around eight o’clock.

When I needed to use the bathroom, she recommended that I go back to my place as there is only one bathroom, which is shared by students and staff. The hagwon occupies the ground floor of the building and consists of five rooms and a single, L-shaped corridor. I, Julie and the part-timer, Nami each have our own class room; there’s an office and an extra room where the water cooler is. The decor isn’t great – the walls are slightly grubby white, the desks and chairs are not all the same, there’s no decoration, everything’s rather tired and lived in. It’s also pretty cold – although Julie told me I have the warmest room in winter and the coolest in summer.

Apparently, there are flats on the upper floors of the building and a number of foreign teachers live there; I didn’t see any yesterday. Julie also told me she could let me have a quarter of my pay in a fortnight. I’m probably not going to be able to eke what what money I have that long, but I suppose that’s why baby Jesus invented credit cards.

Julie had arranged for a 19-year-old boy to come and take me on a little tour of the area. She insisted he was very smart and a great talker, but he wasn’t excessively forthcoming with me. We chatted a little awkwardly as he showed me the sights – a branch of Kookmin Bank, an osteopathy hospital, a bus stop. Ooh.

I was pretty tired at this point, but I had to start earning my keep. First class was a four-year-old boy. When I heard about it, this was the class that I was most apprehensive about. However, the lad is very well behaved, and, while he can’t speak much, he understands reasonably well. I asked him simple questions like, ‘How old are you?’ (he held up four fingers), practised writing letters and worked with flash cards.

After that, the classes were a relative breeze. The children all seem friendly enough, respectful enough and willing enough to communicate. I was suffering from sleep and caffeine withdrawal and developed a bad headache throughout the afternoon – bad enough to make me feel nauseous. I explained this to my last student of the day and he suggested we play Scrabble; I didn’t object. I thrashed him 335 to 86 – which cheered me up a bit.

At one point in the afternoon, Julie introduced me to the other teacher, Nami, who’s a mere slip of a girl at 20 years old. Julie also gave me a few things for my flat – a couple of cups, bowls, forks and spoons and a saucepan – this latter being the most useful, as I can now make tea. I was due to go to a hospital today for my mandatory health check – but Julie suggested we leave it till Thursday if I wasn’t feeling well; I agreed.

I went home and collapsed into bed. I was up again in the early hours, had some cereal and chocolate digestives (I was rather surprised to see that the legendary Diget biscuits have not only changed their packaging, but grown in size), wrote my last blog post, listened to the radio. I got some more sleep around dawn (using the sleeping mask I’d kept from my flight over), but I was up again at eight, well before my alarm went off at nine.

After breakfasting and washing, I headed out and walked to the downtown area of the city – which took about an hour. I’m sitting writing this in the Starbucks I saw when I arrived. I’ve had a look around the Shinsegae department store; there are various clothes shops, of course, an E-Mart, a cinema (not one of the main chains), a Kyobo Mungo – the Koreas equivalent of Waterstones – with a small selection non-TEFL English language books. There’s a lot more to the bus station than I saw on Monday – a ticket to Seoul costs ₩5,500, give or take, depending on where exactly you get off. There are several large sculptures in front of the building, including one by Keith Haring (an exhibition of whose work I saw a couple of years ago in Seoul).

I should walk back home now – I can’t really afford to take a taxi and I’m not au fait enough with the buses to be confident using them. Thinking of kimbap for lunch.

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By the evening before I left, I’d mostly packed my bags and thought I would be under my baggage allowance of 30kg, plus 8kg carry-on. Finishing off the morning I left, it became apparent that it would not be so simple. I got my big backpack to about 16kg – consisting of clothes and toiletries – and squeezed about 15kg into my small suitcase – all the more valuable stuff: camera, speakers, Magic: The Gathering cards, shoes. I removed a few things from my suitcase, left a book or two behind, put a couple of books and my umbrella in my small backpack for carrying on etc, and got down to around 16 (big backpack) + 13 (small suitcase) + 6 (small backpack) kilogrammes.

My parents came down and, together with my sister and her kids, we drove to Manchester Airport. I was there in plenty of time – there was no wait to check in at the Turkish Airlines check-in desks in Terminal 1 and there were no problems – so we had a drink (once we found out where the cafés and shops were). My dad and sister took various photos of me posing with the kids; three-year-old Maisy pretend-fed me a series of sugar sachets. My mum and sister made lame jokes about me flying on a turkey. Afterwards, we went up to the rooftop carpark and waited in the cold for an aeroplane to take off.

I said goodbye amid lots of hugs and kisses and made my way through the security check and to the appropriate gate, arriving not long before boarding started.

The flight to Istanbul was uneventful. At Atatürk International Airport, I wandered around a bit, but elected not to bother buying anything or exchanging money and just waited at the gate, reading. The flight to Incheon was just as uneventful. The first thing the attendants handed out was a pair of slippers, then a tin containing an eye mask, disposable toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste and one or two other items. I used replaced my boots with the slippers, but didn’t get round to brushing my teeth. In fact, during the ten-hour flight, I didn’t leave my seat once. Having not drunk anything in Istanbul, I wasn’t excessively hydrated and didn’t really need the bathroom.

The meals were pretty good, but I noticed that you got a little teacup on each meal tray, but you weren’t served a hot drink until after the tray was taken away. I kept hold of my cup every time and, for the first two meals (including the one on the Manchester-Istanbul flight), was given coffee in it; but the last time, the stewardess gave me back a plastic beaker of coffee instead. People around me were given their tea and coffee in the same plastic glasses – pretty much rendering the teacups completely pointless.

At Incheon Airport, I finally went to the bathroom. I had to connect to the internet to find an address and phone number for my landing card, as I’d forgotten to note them earlier. A look of concern or confusion crossed the face of the Immigration officer as she examined my visa, but she let me through without question.

Once I’d got my bags and exchanged money, I was met in the arrivals hall by my ‘pick-up man’. He hurried me outside and to the bus stop for Cheonan and bought me a ticket with money I provided. He wanted me to pay him ₩30,000, to which I said, ‘No,’ with a bit of a laugh. He got on the phone and sorted it out – so I didn’t give him anything extra. The bus was due to leave in fifteen minutes and he was quite concerned that I should stay at the stop, but I headed back inside to get some water and coffee from a convenience store.

Having been told it would take two hours, the drive south to Cheonan took only one hour, forty minutes. The bus station appeared to be just a car park and thoroughfare next to the Shinsegae department stored. I waited inside, next to the Starbucks (resisting the urge to go in and get something quite easily because I wasn’t keen to lug my bags about) and about twenty minutes or so later the director turned up with her young daughter. As she got on the phone to her husband, who had the car, the five-year-old hid behind her mum and played peekaboo with me.

We walked outside and the husband picked us up on the main road and drove about ten minutes to the area where I was to live and work. The director, Julie, took me to a Paris Baguette and bought me sandwiches and milk. Then we drove past the school and stopped at the apartment, a distance of no more than fifty metres from the school.

Julie took me inside and showed me how to turn on the heating and then I was left by myself until twelve the following day. The flat is actually a little bit bigger than the photos I’d seen suggested – but not massive, of course. It was fairly clean, but there were a few small stains around, a bit of dust behind things and hairs from woman who left last week.

The really disappointing thing was that there was very little in the way of household items. There was a rice-cooker and toaster in the kitchen, along with a brand new, still-in-its-box microwave, but no kettle, no pots or pans, no plates, bowls, cups or cutlery, not so much as a sponge or scouring pad. There were no coat hangers in the wardrobe. In the bathroom, there wasn’t even a pair of rubber slippers. I could find no washing machine, either, but, after talking to a Korean friend on Facebook, who told me I would probably find one somewhere, I had a look around the building and found a communal wasshing machine in a room downstairs.

I went to a nearby Homeplus Express (Homeplus, you’ll remember, is co-owned by Tesco and Samsung) and got a box of cereal, noodles and some chopsticks and spoons. I microwaved water in the noodle container and cleaned it and re-used it in the morning for my Kellogs brown rice flakes.

I was up pretty early, and, having figured out exactly where I was on Google Maps, made my way to a large Homeplus about 25 minutes walk to the south, where I got various other essential items (including three kinds of tea). By the time I got home again, I was pretty tired and needed a nap before meeting the director for lunch.

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I take the 9407 express bus to work every weekday morning. It generally comes about every ten minutes or so (except Mondays, when it seems to take half an hour to arrive), so I’m usually not hanging around too long at the stop – which is good in this winter weather. Because of the traffic light intervals before and after my stop, whenever the bus stops there it immediately has to stop again at a pedestrian crossing a few metres away.

Today, as yesterday, just as I was getting to the bus stop, the 9407 was pulling away and immediately stopping, so I ran and got up to it just as the green pedestrian light came on. I knocked on the door. Unlike yesterday (when I didn’t even have to knock to get the driver’s attention before he let me on), the driver just lifted his hands in a shrug and didn’t open the door. The zebra crossing had plenty of time to run down, so I waited, making what the fuck? gestures.

A moment later, it was clear I was going to be boarding that bus, so I walked towards the stop and punched the side of the bus in frustration. I got dirty knuckles and a little bruise on my middle finger.

I had to wait at least five more minutes for the next bus and I was less early for work than I had hoped. Stupid bloody bus driver.

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I’m nearly two months into my new job and it’s going OK. Sleep and getting up in the morning hasn’t been too much of a problem. I usually try to sleep a little on the express bus down to Bundang, but it’s not easy. The drivers often have the radio on, sometimes at annoying high volumes. They also often have a beep that sounds when the engine revs too high – presumably to let them know when to change gear (unlike the UK, where people drive real cars, the vast majority of Korean cars are automatics (not that I’ve ever driven a car, manual or automatic)).

The main problem, though, is the buses themselves. They’re coaches, really, but living in such an American-oriented society I inevitably think of them as buses. Korea has a great public transport (not transportation) system – there are lots of bus routes and buses, subway lines and trains. The buses are all pretty rickety, though: they jolt and judder and jump up and down every time the driver changes gear or applies the brakes. The drivers also don’t drive too well: they tend to accelerate as fast as possible and then brake as hard as possible.

I’m back into reading as a result. If I can’t sleep on the bus in the morning, I might as well make a little more progess on The Three Musketeers (a novel about four soldiers who rarely use muskets). I can only manage a couple of pages in the evening, though, before exhaustion overtakes me.

My roleplaying game system continues to progress. I’ve been working on a new version that is taking longer than the first version to complete – I don’t have any full days to dedicate to it, now, though. From a high point of six players, the group has shunk a little to three regulars. The campaign that I’m running has taken a lot longer than I imagined to get to the point it’s currently at. The players are at a turning point, however, and I think I need to change my approach for the coming episodes – cutting out extraneous combat, maybe dealing with longer periods in condensed form. We have fun, though, which is the important thing.

Habiba and I are planning our trip to Europe, which will start early in the spring. I learnt from the internet that all international train services in Greece were cancelled earlier this year because of the financial crisis there, also it’s a very chancy business getting inter-island ferries at that time of year. This changes some of our plans – we’ll have to bus it (that word again) from Istanbul to Athens, or maybe Thessaloniki. The next stop will be Albania – transport links there and in the former Yugoslavia also look a bit ad hoc, so that’ll be interesting times.

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My last day at work was Friday. I had thought it was going to be today, which is the day I agreed to finish working, but I was told that I didn’t need to work on the Monday – which I forgot and had to be retold on Friday. Min-seon, the office manager, who I used to give lessons to, took me out for lunch and said that she’d miss me – not sure I believe that.

The previous night was supposed to be a leaving meal for me and Andrew, the Korean guy who also taught at EducaKorea and managed the Learning Center. Having very little work to do I was ready to go at the official finishing time of 6 o’clock, but Andrew told me people would be leaving at 7. So I left anyway and went to roleplaying. Probably not a very nice gesture to my colleagues, but the prospect didn’t fill me with much joy. Besides which, the night’s roleplaying session was an important one and it overran by an hour.

It was also my last roleplaying session for a while, as I’m heading to China on Thursday for a couple of weeks.

I haven’t blogged about my life recently, so here’s an update of the last few weeks.

Korean drivers aren’t held in high esteem by foreigners. I think Koreans just take them for granted. In some ways, though, Korean drivers are very tolerant of pedestrians. If there’s a small road joining a main road and there are no traffic lights, I’ve found that drivers, while they will certainly try to squeeze between people crossing the small road, they will also wait patiently if there are no gaps in the flow of pedestrians.

A while ago, walking back to the office from my Starbucks writing lunch, while crossing one such road an Audi saloon came towards me too fast. Already halfway across the road, I was confident that it was stop, but it came close to hitting me. I was holding my travel cup at my side, so I accidentally on purpose let it clunk against the car’s bonnet. The man inside honked his horn and shouted something at me as I walked away. I took no notice. From the amount of time it too the car to drive past me up the road, I’m sure he got out to check his paintwork. I wonder what would have happened if he’d seen some damage.

I’ve been wanting to get into hiking again – especially since I bought a new pair of hiking boots over the summer – they cost 150,000 won – about £75. A few weeks ago I went to Namhansanseong by myself on Sunday – it was a location that had been suggested by my friend and avid hiker, Botond.

There was a scary moment on the subway train. I was sitting there reading and there was a loud cry – pretty much a scream – from somewhere on my right. A young chubby guy ran down the carriage shouting wordlessly, holding something in his hand, apparently nothing wrong with him. When he got to the next car he stopped. Completely random and very unnerving. I had felt the adrenaline fountain inside me in a split second, and it took a while for my system to settle down.

The hike was pretty pleasant. After a bit of trek through the town, past all the hiking gear shops, you get to the foot of the hills and trudge up the hillside past a few small temples and plots of short towers made of piled rocks – many of them improbably slender. Then you reach the South Gate of the fortress.

It started raining pretty heavily while I was having a break there, so I put on my newly purchased rain jacket and headed off into the downpour while Koreans huddled under the gate’s roof. Not too long afterwards the rain stopped and the clouds cleared away leaving bright sunshine and good visibility. This latter was important because from some parts of the walls you can see all of Seoul to the northwest.

As I got to the west side of the fortress, having gone anti-clockwise around the perimiter (apart from one shortcut), it got more crowded with non-hikers – people there just for a short jaunt out to some historic buildings and who lack all the expensive clothing and gear that marks the serious hiker (and there are lots of these in Korea). As I headed wearily back to the South Gate, going downhill much of the way, my boots began to feel uncomfortable, my toes pressing againt the fronts.

Two weeks later I went back with Habiba and her colleagues June and Aiden.

In between these two hikes (if memory serves) Habiba, her friend Jessica and I went to the Busan International Film Festival (known as PIFF because it was established back when people used the older McCune-Reischauer system of transliterating Hangul into Roman letters). We saw three films on the Saturday but none on the Sunday.

The three we saw were all interesting in various ways – Honey was an understated Turkish film about a boy whose father has an accident while out collecting honey from his hives up in trees in the forest; Portraits in a Sea of Lies – the best of the three – was a moving Colombian film about a withdrawn young woman who goes on a roadtrip with her cocky cousin to find the deeds to a plot of land; and Viridiana was a strange 1950s drama by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel, about a young woman whose uncle tries to seduce and then commits suicide, apparently forcing her to live on in his mansion and take in a load of troubled homeless people.

The blurb about this last film promised cannibalism, so we were all disappointed when it didn’t materialise – blame Korean translators. Actually, no – blame Korean managers: some PIFF bigwig probably just went to someone in their office and said, ‘Here, you speak English: translate all this by next week.’

Some time ago I went had some problems with my shoulder. I first went to what I think was a Korean acupuncture clinic and when this didn’t do much I went to an orthopaedic hospital that seemed to do the job. I went back there more recently with pain in my left hip. It’s a feeling I get from time to time, especially after playing guitar. This time, however, it was completely random and about the sharpest it’s ever been.

I had more physiotherapy of the heat, ultrasound and electric kind, plus some medication, and that helped a lot. I also had a few X-rays (you can’t go to the doctor in Korea without getting a handful of X-rays done), which showed that there’s a slight problem with my L4 vertebra, near the base of my spine. There’s a little extra space where the disc is, implying, I think, some inflammation. The doctor said it wasn’t anything serious, just a sign of getting older, and he recommended that I strengthen my back muscles and don’t sit at a desk too much. I should get on that – at least the first part: you can’t be a writer without applying the seat of the trousers to the seat of a chair.

I’ve been working on my writing and trying to set things up to help my writing goals. I started a new blog, for instance – this one to be a ‘public’ one, while I think Infinite Probability should be a private record of my personal life. To this end, I think I’m going to transfer some things from here to there – namely my book reviews and Lexicon. I also rejoined Critters – and have found that it’s recently been renovated and looks like a fairly contemporary web site (the old one was very basic). I’ve already had some feedback on one of my stories (‘The Green Marble’) that all makes good sense and that I want to incorporate into the next version of the piece. I just need to get down to the hard work of rewriting. I’m also intending to take part in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) in November and see if I can’t write 50,000 in 30 days.

I’ve also been putting a lot of work into a roleplaying game system. It’s very hard work, though. Every decision you make for how things should work have repercussions pretty much throughout the system. Even my goals in creating the game are difficult to balance – part of me wants simplicity, part of me wants realism. Still a fair way to go with this project, but I think a lot of the fundamentals are in place now.

Now that I’m not working, I should have more time to work on the things that are important to me. Sightseeing in China might get in the way for a bit. Natural laziness might get in the way full stop.

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I resigned from my job the week before last. My last day is scheduled to be Monday the 25th of October.

About time, too. I haven’t been happy there for some time. One of the things that attracted me to coming to Korea in the first place back in 2006 was the hours. Before Korea, I’d worked in offices doing administration work, and even with flexible working hours – getting out of bed and to the office on time was a hell of a struggle. Plus, sitting in front of a desk all day when you haven’t had enough sleep is one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done.

A normal hagwon job sees you working something like 2pm to 9pm and on your feet talking to your students much of the time – it requires more energy, but is somehow less tiring.

My current job is not a normal hagwon job. While I’ve made a good fist of getting up at 7:30 to 8 every morning, I can’t go on with it any more. Especially since my non-teaching workload has dropped off to practically zero the past couple of weeks. Even when I did have other work to do – mostly proofreading – it proved utterly infuriating. While the women who work on the Contents team writing the workbooks my company sells speak good English, their written English leaves a lot to be desired.

Their work is full of basic mistakes like using ‘the’ in front of proper nouns, or missing articles where they’re required (for example ‘The Sean bought cup of tea.’) – errors that one would expect of an elementary school student. Even more enraging is when they pick out a vocabulary word and give it the wrong definition (such as where the vocabulary word is ‘bright’, the example sentence is ‘John was a very bright boy’ and the definition is ‘having a strong light or colour’). And then there are those instances when I just don’t understand what they’re trying to say.

The one thing I like about my job is the teaching. I have very small classes – I also have a lot of control over the curriculum. Although we’re supposed to do a certain number of books per term, effectively, if I want to spend two months on one book because that way I know the students will be reading it all and getting the most out of it (and I’ll be able to read the whole thing, too), I pretty much can.

My colleague Andrew, the Korean guy whose role is to manage the Learning Center as well as teach, has also not been enjoying his job, so, while I don’t think there’s any real problem between us, we end up not communicating much with each other.

I’d be happy to continue working part-time just teaching, but our bosses don’t want that. Partly, I believe, because of Korean business culture of screwing every last bit of usefulness out of every single employee; partly because the management don’t really believe in the Learning Center and would happily close it. Which is probably what’s going to happen when I leave.

My plan is to find a few private classes to keep my finances in the black and, once my E-2 visa expires to leave the country briefly and come back on a tourist visa. If my employer doesn’t say anything to Immigration, then I’ll need to do this a couple of time before Habiba and I are ready to say goodbye to Korea – according to our current plans, anyway. This is not strictly by the book, but not an uncommon practice.

I’ve been trying to up my writing game over recent months and there is a work-shaped ceiling beyond which I can’t reach at the moment. Although I still find writing extremely hard work, I’ve been thinking more and more about what I want to write about, about what I want to achieve. Recently, I’ve written more than I’ve ever done before; I’ve rewritten more than I’ve ever done before. Although, naturally, I am inclined to give myself as easy a life as possible, what I’m proposing is not that I exchange my current job for a life of loafing, but that I exchange it for another job – writing. Once I leave Korea for good, I may not have another opportunity to dedicate myself whole-heartedly to my vocation – until I actually start to get paid for it.

I only wonder why I didn’t resign before now – or why I even took this job in the first place. Money, I suppose.

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I logged in to Infinite Probability a few minutes ago to add another word to my Lexicon (clochard; see below) and to mention the World Names Profiler (also see below … slightly less below … in fact, above the previous below … I’d continue describing the post’s location, but it’s beneath me). When I accessed my blog’s dashboard, I noticed that the number of posts was up to exactly one thousand. It only took four years.

Anyway, it means that this post is my 1,003rd. Time for a general update.

Habiba’s father is still in hospital, doing a little better. The most recent worry was his having a bout of arrhythmia. He was also denied a place at their first choice rehabilitation centre – he will apparently need too much medical care, and they’re not set up to provide it. That’s a disappointment, of course, but, in a way, it’s also a sign of his progress. He’s now recovered sufficiently that he can be seriously considered for rehabilitation. Habiba’s mum now needs to find another place to apply to; there are a number to choose from in the general area (New York State/New England). He’s also able to communicate now. His first words, I understand, were about his boat.

I’m not doing too badly at work. Over the past few weeks I’ve redesigned the homework I give to the students so that I have less work to do preparing for the higher level classes. For those, I now let the students do the bulk of the vocabulary work – they have to find their own definitions, basically. Strangely, since I’ve been back in Korea, I’ve had very little proofreading to do. Which is nice. I hate it.

I started writing a new short story yesterday. It’s going pretty well so far – I have over a thousand words down, I’m enjoying writing in the narrator’s voice, I have a clear idea of where the story is going. It’s a first person, present tense narrative, neither of which techniques I use very often. It’s also intended to be more philosophical in tone, something else I don’t go in for much. This philosophicality was inspired by my current reading material, Immortality by Milan Kundera, which I’m enjoying.

Lastly, I’ll briefly mention that it’s Habiba’s birthday in just over a week. Last weekend (speak it quietly, take care she’s not around to overhear) I bought her a couple of presents – of the useful and thoughtful variety. This weekend I need to work on the, um, presentation of said presents. We’re going away the following weekend, so there’ll be no time then for such preparation. Not much time, either, for a party.

That’s all from me, for now.

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