Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Things we like about Korea - Part 4

Just a quicky!

Electricity is soooo cheap here! I've just had a bill in for this month and it was 7900 won/ 4 quid. We both use the electricity all the time so it's just amazing that it's so cheap! Sometimes I put the electric blanket on when I don't need it, I'm just that cerazy! I also pay 2,000 won a month for the flat in Sintaein (which I don't use) which I think is some sort of Admin charge... so that means in total I'm paying about 3 quid a month to fully energise a flat! I'll be wishing I had that when I'm freezing cold under 85 blankets in the UK and can't afford to put the radiators on!

I'm not going to mention the real cost of S. Korean rural power - instead of gas or electricity powering hot water it's oil. The oil costs 1,000 won a litre, which doesn't sound a lot but it is. However, weirdly Greg has got away with only using about 10 litres of the stuff since he moved here. I paid sky high bills in Ancheon but I think thats because the old people were syphoning it off me!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

List of Things Korea Wastes a ton of money on- part 1

[Katherine]: Seeing as we're in a recession, and following on from my early post, I thought I would detail the key things that Korea wastes money on. I don't know much about the Korean economy (except its failing like all other economies) and I am amazed at how much money they spend on things whilst still having certain people living in tin like shacks in the country! Here is the list anyway:

1) Teachers - at home if a school drops in numbers then they close it down and send the students to a nearby school. In Korea, they just keep the school open FOREVER and end up having more teachers than students. One of my schools has 17 pupils and 10 teachers, and we know of a school with 9 students and 10 teachers!!! It's not as if they can't go to nearby schools - Korea is full of them, but apparently it makes the parents 'very angry' if their kids have to walk their arses for 10 minutes to another school!

Where IS everyone?!?!?

2) School buildings - All these tiny schools are house in GIANT buildings. They need to be maintained, powered and kept clean. It's a shame as most of my schools are really dirty and run down. If they closed down schools and focussed on updating the ones that remained, the students experience would be much improved.

3) Staff in general - Koreans seem to take a reallllyyyy long time to do a simple task. If you go into a bank or a shop and try to do a simple task, it will take about 8 members of staff to do it. They all have a massive and loud discussion, nothing gets done and then they all bow to each other and pat each other on the back. (This isn't just a result of our poor Korean, it happens to ALL customers).

4) Air hostesses - Specific example of the above. We were on a Korean airlines plane to Japan, it took 5 members of staff to shut an overhead locker and put a blanket on the knee of some guy (who was clearly capable of doing it himself). Again with the bowing.

5) Maintaining Korean 'seen to be doing, but not actually doing' culture - Appearance is everything in Korea, kids stay at school until 10pm at night and people work 7 days a week. However, they don't actually DO anything. The kids are asleep more often than not, or just so overwhelmed that they cannot take anything in (who can blame them) and the adults spend all their time pretending to work on their computers and surfing the net.As they are all APPEARING to be working everyone is happy and stating that Koreans work the 'hardest'. They might spend a lot of time at work, but they are not actually achieving anything. Inefficiency means paying more members of staff to do less and keeping hostage poor students late into the night.

Knackered! (this is what most of my classes look like!)

6) Poor quality apartments - Our apartment is a piece of rank. It is covered in mould and is just generally gross, its freezing in winter and hot in summer and is generally falling apart. However, all Korean buildings are like this. They don't make them to last. They just build apartment buildings really quickly and cheaply, and then wait for them to fall apart in less than 10 years and knock them down and start again. Instead of investing in decent housing they waste money and time by constantly rebuilding! My old co-teacher was shocked when she went to the UK as they had 'many beautiful buildings that were many years old', go figure!
Mould!! :( (nb - ours isn't this bad YET, I really need my camera back!)

Waste of Money

[Katherine]: One of the best things about Korea is ALL the free time we get at school. I know that not all teachers get this, some are worked like dogs and get no thanks for it, but am just talking about our experiences in the country! We are scheduled to be in work for 40 hours a week and to teach 'up to' 22 lessons a week. As I only teach Middle School a lesson is 45 minutes long.

When I worked at Ancheon, I worked a standard 22 lesson week and stayed in school for longer than 40 hours a week. I was also used and abused and was made to teach 'English Cafes' at lunchtimes and before school everyday, which took my hours to over 22. However, when I complained about this I was basically ignored (as I always was at that school) so it kind of bummed. Now, however I feel I get a little karma. Due to the fact I work in 5 different schools (one a day) and the poor communication in place here, I only actually teach 17 hours, sssshh! And because I am constantly being carted around from school to school and have no permanent home (ie no proper co teacher - borstal Mr Nasty is apparently it) I never actually work an 8 hour day. I like to think this is pay back, 1) For the appalling time I suffered both in the shack and at Ancheon School itself. 2) For the borstal hell and 3) for the fact that I am ace!;)

It does get me thinking though, once I have planned my lessons for the week, I am pretty much at a loose end. Obviously I use my time constructively, going on Waygook and Facebook, planning my next holiday *this one is to Malaysia, and reading up for the MA I want to do next year. I really love this peaceful time, but as a moral person it does beg the question, is it all a waste of money??! For example, the Korean Government will have paid out a total of 38.1 million won/ 19,000 pounds  to have me teach here for 12 months (including wage, airfare, settlement allowance, accommodation and bonus). I feel I am utilised quite well at 4 of my schools, but could be so much more useful but I just feel like as Native English speakers we should be used to improve students English CONVERSATION and build their confidence, which I don't think we do.

Reading forums, I have found that a hell of a lot of people aren't utilised at all, especially in elementary schools, and are just used as human parrots, I know this was certainly the case for me at Ancheon, I was literally the teacher's bitch 99% of the time and it was just ridiculous and depressing. A lot of teachers don't do anything and yet the government continues to shell out a fortune despite seeing no real improvements! For a country that is going to the dogs this is a really bad idea, and I wonder - when will it stop?

OK, rant over, back to random lunatic posts about trips to theme parks!

Borstal Times

[Katherine]: As we are leaving Korea relatively soon I want to document as much as possible, so I can remember exactly how I felt in Korea in 6 months time (I have a very bad memory). So, I get the feeling that there will be several random posts written between now and eternity (August 26th) and this is the first.

I am always super depressed on a Sunday night as I have to teach at 'Sintaein Middle School' on a Monday. I put this in inverted commas because it's so not a Middle School and is soooo a borstal for naughty boys (my discovery of this has been documented previously in the blog.) I never have a clue what classes or ability levels I am going to be teaching so am always stressed that I haven't prepared properly; I never know how the teachers are going to screw me over each week so I'm always on my guard for that; I never know exactly how naughty the kids are going to be - if they will be in a sleeping or a shouting abuse mood.  In addition to this I am always running late for my first class as my bus only arrives in Sintaein 10 minutes before class actually starts!
How my face looks after running up the hill on a Monday!

Today however, was one of my better borstal days (ah, this loving and affectionate nickname!!) I got to school to start teaching low level 3rd grade (this is the class I was told  I was going to be teaching, so this is a bonus already!) The teacher (nasty man) was already there with a textbook open, and told me he didn't want me to teach but for me to 'assist' him. This just involved reading 21 words and sentences over and over, and whilst it was boring it was good to give myself a rest from being ignored and run all over by the kids themselves! At the start of the lesson  nasty man told (not asked) the kids that they were all tired. According to him this was because they had had 'lots of free time' last week!  Most schools around the area have had field trips in the last few weeks, but I assume the borstal kids are too naughty so they just got to have 'free time' at school. Typically, they still worked on Monday when I was in last week though!!!

What a baby would look like if it had to sit through my 3rd grade class

Nasty Man still wanted the kids to work so got them to sing the song 'Take me home, Country Roads" and then repeat a lot of words!! It was REALLY random but I smiled and nodded anyway ( I didn't sing though, despite my clear musical talent). I have no idea how singing a song in incredibly poor English or not singing at all will help these kids, but at least they sort of looked happy!!

 The kids still weren't the best but they were pretty quiet, and I didn't have to speak a lot so I was pleased!

First Grade was much better. Again, I was teaching the class I was scheduled to teach (high level first grade) and again was just 'assisting'  (reading 15 words and sentences this time). And again the 'tired' kids started with a song - this time it was a little know ESL song called 'Sun, sun, Sunday ... I love you'. It was really catchy and even I hummed along! I also discovered at this juncture that in addition to the 'free time' the students had last week, they also had a 'performance to show special skills' (I assume this means talent contest!). So, for some reason in our English Class we were treated to what I think  was a comedian and what I think but hope was not, a student attempting to use chat up lines on a fan (as a substitute for a woman). He basically got a fan in the middle of the room and knelt down next to it and tried to look smooth and talk at it. He also waved a pink pen at it at one stage.  I say think as it was all in Korean (in English Class) and no one attempted to tell me what was going on. The kids seemed to enjoy it though, and as the comedian is one of my only nice students at the borstal, I was pleased that he got people laughing with him, not at him, unlike the fan chat up boy!!

Fan - Is it sexy?!?!

After this waste of 15 minutes we got down to the real business of the day - repeating words, and I went back to sleep. This isn't any sort of productive use of my time but I MUCH prefer this method of teaching to my usual crowd control 45 minutes of HELL! Hopefully, I will have many more of these lessons as after 13 weeks of the semester and 3 English lessons a week, the students have only reached Unit 4 of their textbooks. I think they need all the time they can get!

[EDIT: The 2nd year students - who are always my LEAST favourite class - got the song treatment as well. Their song of choice is 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon', it's a favourite of mine as my dad used to sing it when I was young! Not sure the students got the meaning though :( On a more Korean note, about 10 of the students were late to class and the teacher lined them up and whacked them in various places, they had to try and move to avoid him and when they didn't he whacked them all! One kid got out of the way so the teacher kissed him in the arse!! Nice!]

Monday, 23 May 2011

Ey OOP - My Northern Kids

[Katherine]: As I'm making up for lost blogging time today and just had a cute kid experience, I thought I would write about it on the blog, just so people know that I don't spend my entire life screaming at borstal kids and crying about my situation (see every other blog post!)

Today I'm at one of my super rural schools. It has a total of 26 kids in 3 classes (my BIGGEST super rural school, would you believe?!!?) and I actually enjoy teaching 2 out of the 3 classes, as the kids mostly listen to me and seem interested in what I have to say. My third grade class hate me with a healthy passion and either fall asleep or run riot, but the First and Second grade are absolutely lovely.

Today I was teaching the first grade about 'family', a pretty easy topic even for them, so we were all getting along fine. However, I was surprised to hear a fit of hysterical giggles when I said the 'key phrase' 'This is my mother'. At first, I thought they were amused by the picture, which happens a lot but then they all started chanting 'MUTHER' "'MUTHER' in the cutest oldham accents ever!! I am normally very good at hiding my accent in class. Korean kids learn American English which sounds so different to my natural tongue but I can normally adapt quite well and say words how they understand ( I don't like doing this but it's what I'm told to do so I do it). However, for the life of me, I COULD NOT say mother any differently. As I tried I got more and more northern and the kids found it hilarious!! So, I stopped bothering! It was really nice because these kids are normally really quiet and it was great to see them come out of their shells. Normally my classes aren't that exciting, so it was fab to see them getting a laugh and actually memorising my phrases! They kept goading me to say it again and I actually felt good within my lessons for once, so it was a nice thought, plus now I have all these ace mini-Oldham kids with northern accents - I want to bring them home!!

Ey Oop we're Northern!

Hopefully, they will keep it up and I can teach them new words secretly without the silly POE dissing me, mwahaaa!!
I have to teach the same lesson to 3rd grade now, but I'm pretty sure I won't get a similar fun response!

Also, did you know in the US, they spell aunt 'ant' WEIRD!! That's another powerpoint I have to change!!
[GIANT EDIT: Greg tells me this is infact BS and my co-teachers just a dumb ass, as I neither knew nor cared what the correct spelling was, I didn't even check it out, naughty Katherine! However, I like this picture of an ant/aunt so i'm keeping it on the blog, so there!!!]

Ant or Aunt?!! I just don't know?!

Things we like about Korea, Part Three

[Katherine]: Oh yes, I'm on a blogging roll!

One of the other things we like about Korea is that we can get all around the country (which in our case means 'go to Seoul') in a very short time for a very cheap price on a very comfy bus (most of the time). To get from our home town of Buan to Seoul takes 3 hours and costs 7 pounds (on a bus, but we have no train here and the train isn't that much quicker.)  Compare to the UK - a bus from Manchester - London takes 5 hours and can cost up to 30 quid - simple, transport (ie public transport, not the car drivers who just want to murder me) is much better in Korea than the UK - there I've said, something in Korea that is better than in the UK!!

Although, I don't have a desire to escape my hometown every weekend in the UK,and can just go to buy my food anywhere as opposed to an 'International Supermarket' (mostly a ripoff) so I guess it all balances out, but I said something positive about Korea, so I'm going to give myself a pat on the back!!

Things we like about Korea, Part Two

[Katherine]: The last installment of this 'uplifting' post was back in February. I find it strangely reassuring despite how depressing it is that it has taken me 3 months to think of something else I like about Korea!
Well, here it is - I love how you have to take a ticket at the cinema/bank etc with a number on it and wait for your turn and  then just go to the desk when your number pings on the screen!! I think this is actually my favourite Korean 'thing.' I like it because:
1. It is pretty exciting to wait for your number to appear and then rush over to the desk, knocking some Korean who is trying to push in out of the way and flinging your numbered ticket at the desk attendant.
2. It avoids having to queue (stand up) and be jostled constantly and pushed into so much so that you think you have gone back to Scruples (dodgy Oldham nightclub of the late 1990s).
3. If there is a long wait you can do other things while you wait. For example, in Gwangju last week we went to check out the Burger King menu whilst we were waiting for our turn (I had a fish sandwich).

YEAH!! I've got my ticket, so you can stick your pushing old ajumma!!

Countdown 100 - 1!

I haven't written in the blog since I got back from the UK, as not much has been happening and also I've been knackered!! Anyway, I had an amazing time at my lovely twin's wedding in London and it was totally worth the jet lag (still happening a month later I think!) and general going against Korean work til you die ethic! Mwahaa!! Due to me losing the wire to attach my camera to my computer (well Greg's computer as mine was broken by a Korean!!) I am going to keep posting random pictures that I have taken from Google Images not actual photos!!

The most exciting thing that has happened since I got back is that there is now less than  100 hundred days to go  until we get to leave here forever!! When we reached 100 days we made a special countdown on our notice board (complete with Greg drawing an offensive picture of me on it!) We are now down to 96 days so it's super exciting!! There has also been a bit of let up since I got back, which is really fortunate as I am SO tired! Lots of my schools have had random days off for testing, field trips etc and we have also had 2 public holidays! That does include 1 day off from the borstal that I wasn't told about, and the week after was offered NO apology for them not telling me  I swear I want to kill the pair of teachers that run that joint, I have found myself thankful when all that happens in a day there is that I get all my class schedule changed and have to teach different classes than I have prepared for! Surely that cannot be right??!! Anyway, I have just 6 more days to go there so am gritting the old teeth - I am so grateful not to be there every day at  least!!!

Back to the general thread anyway, we are super excited about the countdown to go home and for me to hopefully start my MA (I'm not sure that Greg's as excited about his new job, but he will be a fantabulous lawyer) and for our holidays to Malaysia and Singapore - so here it goes, roll on August 26th!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, 19 May 2011


[Greg:] Our few recent blog posts have been devoid of photographs due to the fact that my macbook and my cheapo camera don't like talking to each other and some Koreans broke Kathy's computer.  In addition, we've not been doing anything particularly interesting or visiting anywhere particularly photo-worthy.  However, today I actually found the motivation to bring my camera into school and use the school computer so I can post some of our recent photos.

Katherine murders hundreds of spiders.

I control the spider elimination operation from my command station.

The delicious bounty that Kathy brought back from the UK - we've got Cadbury's chocolate, Mars Bars, fruit pastilles, prawn cocktail and salt and vinegar pringles, salt and vinegar sticks, crumpets, salad cream, various tinned food and lots and lots (20 to be exact) jars of meat/fish paste.  Oh, and a jar of marmite.  That lot was meant to keep us going until Singapore/Malaysia in August but a good chunk of it has been finished off already (and not by me!).
Eeyore welcomes Katherine home with salt and vinegar kettle chips.
The welcome Back Kathy memo board.

Our rogues gallery of oranges.
Pleased to be back in Korea!

This weekend we're going to Gwangju, mainly because it has a Burger King in the bus terminal so we can eat without having to step out into the baking heat and yellow dust.  If there are any photos then you can look forward to seeing them here in about 6 months.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


Another week has passed in Korea (and probably elsewhere too, although we both feel so isolated from the real world since Korea is so insular and shut-off that time might have stopped for all we know).  Katherine has come back from the UK (with a treasure chest of British food in her case, much of which has already been consumed) and the public holiday's for Children's Day and Buddha's Birthday have been and gone.  The weather is boiling hot, there's nasty yellow dust storms blowing in from China and Katherine and I have both had just about enough of Korea now.  Luckily there's just over 3 months of Korea left and only 2 more months of teaching so we feel like we're on the home straight now.  We're busy planning our trips to Malaysia and Singapore and desperately trying to save a little bit of extra cash before we return to the relative poverty of the UK.

This weekend we're going to visit Lotte World (again), partly because it's one of the few decent places to go in Korea and partly (predominantly) because I had the foresight to suggest we buy annual passes when they were dirt cheap so we can now go and spend the day there without burning a hole in our wallets.  We're also going to attempt to find H&M since Kathy needs new clothes and nothing in Korea fits her since Koreans are all freakishly small and she doesn't want to face the indignity of returning to 'Bigtopia', the plus size/western size shop in Itaewon which stocks horrible, unfashionable fat people clothes.

One of the main reasons that we need to buy new clothes in the first place is because of the ever-encroaching mould and damp in our apartment.  Unfortunately this isn't an isolated incident.  The humid, nasty weather has caused a build-up of moisture everywhere to the extent that I find myself sliding along corridors at my rural schools and sleeping in a damp bed in my relatively modern apartment.  Horrible!  I thought it'd be malnutrition that would get us in Korea, or possibly the crazy Korean drivers but it looks like we'll actually die from respiratory infections.