Friday, 21 September 2012

Art Displays And Fatcat Frank...

Another month or so has passed since I last dredged up the energy to prattle on about my meandering existence in Daegu. As always I have taught some English and socialised with some people. But I did drag myself to something a little cultural for once.
As renowned as I am for my total lack of interest in doing anything constructive or unusual, I agreed that it was time to visit another of Korea's incessant "festivals" and moreover one that revolved around art.

If you don't know me, then you won't be aware that by and large I am indifferent to most art and hate some of it. I do like Dali and I did like Tony Hart as a small child. But then we should not forget that as a small child I wanted to be made from clay and live in a cave, so my endorsement of an artist at that age does not denote a guarantee of quality.

As it happened this festival was being organised by my friend Kimmy. She is Korean. That's not me bragging about having made a native friend, but I just thought I'd let you know. And I mean a proper Korean. One who uses the Korean language as her first choice of communication...madness I know.
Kimmy asked me to check her English for the official rule guide and timetable for The Daegu Body Painting Festival.

I checked it. It was fine. Now if the story ended there it would be a farce, but as luck would have it, there is more to come, although as I write this I realise that it in no way constitutes a "story". It is really just me telling you that I went to a Body Painting Festival. But, this was an artistic festival and was not in any way an excuse for gratutious nudity. As a horde of fellow teachers wandered about Duryu Park drinking beer, we would be led to the painting displays that were surrounded by a mob of middle aged Korean men with huge cameras taking pictures.

What was this? The press? A local celebrity? Surely there had to be good reason why men with huge telescopic lens on their cameras were crammed around one or two tents and not the multiple tents of women having the final touches put to intricate and impressive body paintings.

There was a good reason. The women in these tents had not yet got much paint on, or anything else for that matter. The men were not from the press, but evidently felt that a massive zoom lens was a necessity for taking a shot of a woman who was 6ft away. Now, I would provide you with a picture, but that would supporting such lewd behaviour, so I will instead give you an image of a finished painting.

I have to include the caption "Daegu International Body Painting Festival 2012" because according to the rules that I was asked to check for English mistakes, failure to do so on any unauthorised or unofficial media would result in me being sued. I don't fancy being sued, so...

Daegu International Body Painting Festival 2012:

What I immediately noticed was how few of the models were Korean, but many were white and blonde. I asked Kimmy where they were from. "Russia" she said. xenophobic stereotypes please, so I asked "Ah ha...and what are their jobs?" to which I was told "They said they're English teachers".

Not the best cover story that these women could have come up with, given that only people born in an English speaking country and with a passport from said country can come here and teach. Their genuine line of work was also one that involved not wearing clothes but, I imagine, rarely staying still for such long periods of time.

And it is with such thinly veiled references to prostitution that I move onto the topic of a new student of mine. At this point you may well be alarmed at what link a new student of mine and prostitution could possibly have, and I assure you it is nothing of concern. My new student is about 10 years old. I think. However, being in my lowest level class his English is so poor that you would think his only lessons had been taught to him by someone from...I don't know...Russia or something.

Because my new student, who is called Frank, can only say one thing, "Okay Teacher". This is said in a voice that is almost as deep as mine and it is said to answer pretty much any question.

Me: "Hello Frank"
Frank: "Okay Teacher"
Me: "Do you have your pencil Frank?"
Frank: "Okay teacher."
Me: "What colour is your T-shirt Frank?"
Frank: "Okay Teacher."

I'm not convinced that Frank is as clueless as he acts, because first of all, although he is officially a child, he looks to me like he could well be the owner of a major multinational corporation. He is a huge, round lump who chuckles with a sinister, raspy laugh. When I look over to see if Frank is colouring his picture of a car, he is leant back, smiling with his arms stretched out. He looks as if he should have a cuban cigar in one hand, a glass of cognac in the other and perhaps a freshly trafficked Russian prostitute perched on his lap.

Frank could well be 45 years old. Granted he is short of stature, but he swaggers down the corridors, has the face of a bonafide fat cat and despite the fact I've overheard him use other English, any request or enquiry is still only met with "Okay Teacher".

I tried this with his year of birth. I wrote every year from 2000 up to 2004 (as that has to be his age ranged for this class) on the board and asked what year he was born in. He smiled. Probably remembering the time he sealed a merger in a board meeting, before kicking a homeless man to death on the way home. "Okay Teacher".

I point at 2000 and say "This?".

"Okay Teacher". I try 2001...."Okay Teacher."

1965 Frank? Does that ring any bells? Or how about the mid 1980s when Saddam Hussein's regime bought chemical weapon components from the US? Know anything about that "Frank"?

"Okay Teacher".

It is infuriating to try and teach Frank, but what can I do? If I get frustrated or give him a poor grade, he will probably have my house torched and withdraw all of his UK based investments, crippling the ailing economy still further.

But there is a glimmer at the end of the tunnel. Because the other day he identified two pictures, the first was a can of coke, which he should know given that he runs the distribution wing in Southern Asia, and the second was a car. "Okay Teacher...Car." Genius.

Now, my old sparring partner Phillip the Loathsome is due in class shortly...."Erm Frank, you know what a car is now, do you think you could push Phillip in front of one?"

Just say those two words of yours Frank...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Insulting Students And Baby Sitting.

It's been over a month since I posted, and this time I don't even have the excuse of having done anything worthwhile, such as getting my TEFL. In fact, I wouldn't even have written this blog today if it weren't for a young wench called Emma who practically begged me to write something new in order to distract her from life back in England. All hate mail for Emma can be sent to me, and I will ensure it is passed on.

The past month has however, been slightly eventful. I learnt the Korean word for monkey, which has obviously proved invaluable when out and about ordering food or trying to talk to Koreans, and a rat found its way into my apartment by coming through the drain in the bathroom. All in all a wild few weeks that make for some gripping stories to tell my grandchildren.

There has however been one major change in my work schedule and not one that I enjoy. I have been given the task of teaching earlier classes to the youngest students. These are the "little ones". And no doubt if you saw many of them, you would let out an "awww" and coo like a complete cretin, because many of them are indeed what could be described as cute.

But this is really not the whole story. Because the whole story, is that whilst on the face of it many of them look like cartoon characters, a great number of them are in fact a bunch of gibbering, slack jawed, primordial scum.

It is easy to suggest that six and seven years need to be cut some slack, but if I learnt one thing from Neville Chamberlain it is that appeasement does not work. If you encounter a belligerent piece of filth, you should crush it before it's too late. You might think that teaching is not the career for me, but it's the only one I have, and if you met Phillip who I now teach three times a week, you would probably have yourself immediately sterilised just to be on the safe side.

Phillip's mother says he loves having me as his teacher. I guess it's a love-hate relationship then, as I'd like to impale Phillip on a particularly blunt chopstick. And frankly the fact that he loves having me around doesn't mean very much. He also wrote that he loves kittens, but I wouldn't ask him to feed my Mum's pet cats if she was away on holiday, because he probably loves being around kittens so that he can gouge out their eyes with a hot teaspoon.

Moreover, the lowest level of these classes has a company guideline attached to the course outline that says "Should be taught by a bilingual instructor". Presumably they heard about how I recently added the word "monkey" to my threadbare Korean vernacular and were suitably impressed. Either that, or they just thought it would funny to watch me tell children who are barking and licking chairs to "sit down", when they don't know what the word "sit" or the word "down" means.

After one week, I was told that I would also be guiding them through 3 weeks of intensive classes that also included field trips to a theme park, indoor rock climbing and a day of archery. Archery you say? I'll mentor Phillip if that's okay?

Before this three weeks of frivolity could ensue, the children had to sign a bizarre contract and chant out each point of it in unison. There was a translation in English for each numbered pledge and as the eldest child read it aloud, the rest would repeat it as a mantra. I felt like I had walked into North Korea, as this assortment of midgets chanted in Korean that they would "Strive to conquer any mountain in search of my best" and "Be thankful to Korea and my parents for this opportunity".

There was an almost Hitler Youth type atmosphere that would have warmed the heart of even the most demanding anti-semite. Granted, none of the pledges involved genocide or racial purity, but every indoctrination program has to start somewhere.

In one months time, I will officially be moved to teaching this rabble permanently, but for now I still have the respite of my older students and my higher level classes. Teenagers with genuine wit, and topics to teach that vary from history to science, politics to mythology and not just the word "shoe".

I decided to make the most of my final few weeks with these students, get to know them even better, give my all to class and buoyed by my recent advances in Korea's mother tongue, I thought I should learn some new and hilarious insults for the traditional banter that they so enjoy.

With many of these classes, students hand out faux compliments as a form of desperate bribery, and light hearted insults when this fails. In turn I will use the usual fall back of "Babo" meaning stupid or rename a child on the computer to something ludicrous. The long nights can fly by as you might imagine. But I needed to step it up, because every teacher in Korea knows "Babo". Luckily for me, my good friend Cooper Trooper has been seeing a Korean girl and learnt a fantastic new insult.

"Sakajee". Cooper Trooper explained it to me as meaning "unkind student" or "arrogant student". These things often get lost in literal translation, but his girl assured him that it would make them mildly indignant, surprise them and yet not cause any real offence. Perfect.

I wasted no time, as fourteen year old Lilly came to say hello..."Hello to you too....Sakajee".


This was far better than I could have ever hoped. Lilly erupts, stamping her foot like a toddler, shrieking at me "NOOO, No Sakajee". She glares, shakes her fist at me and heads off to her classroom. I'm beaming from ear to ear and in come some of my favourite students, all fourteen and fifteen. I begin to check homework and perfect, Kelly hasn't done hers. I shake my head and say "Ah...Sakajee".

Fantastic response, indignant cries from her and both her friends. This is the best insult ever, why has it taken me this long to find?

I was so delighted, that I decided to spread the wealth and met a group of friends from other schools downtown for some drinks at a bar run by one of Korean friends. I explained the pronunciation and the reactions, and all around me faces once dulled by education were alight at the prospect of insulting those we are paid to help.

Then someone says "What does it actually mean?" and as I struggle to explain the exact meaning, I decide it would be far easier to ask our Korean friend, so I shout him over from the bar...

Me: "Hey Minseok, what does Sakajee exactly mean?"

Minseok: "Oh...very bad, very bad word."

Me: "Yeah yeah, but what does it mean?"

Minseok: "It mean like the girl who likes to always do thing with her would say it like 'Cock Sucker'"

What? No, no, no, no, no.

No. NO...OH GOD NO!!!!

I've been strolling into class, smirking, pointing at a teenage student and saying "You're a cock sucker"?

Why do I still have a job? Where are the police? What in the name of Vishnu was Cooper Trooper's girl thinking of? As it turns out apparently if you say "Saah Ga Jee" it means arrogant student, or whatever vague slur I intended, but if I say "Sakajee" it means the aforementioned sexual expletive.

Now thankfully, it appears that either through innocence or by way of understanding my intent, the victims of my unwarranted attack understood my meaning, either that or they have now decided that anything goes when in my presence, as I am regularly greeted by "Saah Ga Jee" and mock fury.

Now if I could just find two similar sounding phrases, where one means "Good job Phillip" and the other means "Jump out of that window", I would be the happiest bilingual instructor in Daegu.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Student Wisdom...

As absolutely nothing has happened in the past two weeks, I am forced to create a blog entirely from the hard work of others. It is certainly not the first time I have used the wisdom of my students to pad out my writings on my fairly uneventful life and it certainly wont be the last.

But this time feels a little worse and a bit more of a cheat, perhaps due to the dizzy heights that were reached when I got to pepper spray Eric. For once I felt like I had achieved something and left behind a weekend that didn't feel wasted. I haven't got to assault anyone in the past two weeks and I haven't even managed to victimise a Korean woman. Times are hard.

However, as you may recall I was recently referred to as a "jackpot" by a Korean stranger commenting on a girls picture of me, which is probably the highlight of the past 10 years if not my entire life. And yet it got better thanks to a random encounter with a student named Austin, who has now got a number of students bestowing me with other nicknames.

Austin is an interesting character. On April Fools Day he wrote his mother a suicide note and hid in his wardrobe, and expressed surprise to me that when she ran screaming and weeping into his bedroom she did not collapse into fits of laughter when he leapt from the wardrobe shouting "April Fools".

I sympathised with him, Korean mothers just have no sense of humour.

Austin has also expressed an interest in western culture, as he told me that he wants to become fluent in English so that he can..."Travel to the UK or America and smoke marijuana and do some cocaine".

I was a little taken aback and he looked at me with hope and expectation, before asking:

"Teacher have you done drugs?"

Me: "No Austin, why?"

He looks wistfully into the air and an almost dreamlike and peaceful expression settles upon his face...

Austin: "I would like to do the drugs one day. It would be nice, but I must finish the school first."

That's right Austin, you must finish the school first, and once you do, why nobody in their right mind would stop you from fulfilling your lifes dream of doing the drugs and I think you'll do them just great.

Despite Austin's liberal approach to illegal drug use, and his love of playful pranks involving the cause of huge distress to his parents, he apparently has a more conservative view of gender roles. Because like so many Korean students, he seems to think that if a male is walking with a female who is not family, then they must be in some form of sexual relationship. If only this were true, because I regularly walk along the road with females and sometimes we even have lunch together!

As it happened, one bright Sunday afternoon I was walking along with Chef and another female friend we shall call "Mallory", basically because that's her name. So Chef, Mallory and I strolled through the sunshine enjoying a cold beer, and although I don't recall the conversation, I'd imagine Chef was saying something ridiculous and Mallory and I were laughing at her and calling her names.

At this point, Austin strolls into view. Not a crack pipe in sight, and this would be such a nice day for him to be smoking crack too. He sees me and his eyes widen, he smirks, looks at my companions and quickly says "Hello" before jogging off into the distance.

The following week at school and suddenly I am cornered by a gaggle of middle school girls, some saying that I am a "windy boy" which means playboy. Others are calling me "Casanova Teacher" and one girl approachs looking very unhappy and says "I am very disappointed to you". I look at her and realise that such grammar is unacceptable even if she is upset, "It's 'I am very disappointed IN you' and why are you?"

Austin has told them I have two girlfriends who I take out to get drunk on the street. I explain that they are not my girlfriends, just girls who I am friends with. I carefully avoid tackling the getting drunk part, but Austin appears beaming as happily as the day he convinced his Mum he had killed himself.

Austin: "Ah teacher, I told Jenny teacher she should not speak with you, because you will suck her in."

Me: "They are just friends Austin, not my girlfriends."

Austin: "Hmmm...okay, but you were drinking the beer on the street."

Me: "Yes but I'm old enough to drink beer, it's not a problem."

Austin: "But on THE STREET!"

Me: "I always drink on the street at home if it's a hot day and I'm going somewhere..."

Austin: "AH HA! But you are in Korean now"

Me: "Yes, but...."

Austin sees me faltering and his face lights up...

Austin: "When in Rome teacher."

And with a triumphant smile he strolls off, leaving me to face a barrage of questions about how many girlfriends I have and how many of them I have "kicked" when I found a new one.

Despite this set back in my carefully crafted school persona, it was worth it to hear a 14 year old correctly use "When in Rome", even though in Daegu I see middle aged men constantly drinking on the street, but perhaps this would come to an end under Austins rule. No drinking on the street, but free narcotics for anyone who finishes school.

There were two other moments of student wisdom this past week that spring to mind. The first one is most pleasing as today is American Independence Day. As much as I like my American friends and will happily drink on the street for 4th of July, it is good to see that some of the students recognise the inherent beauty of the English language spoken as God intended.

In a high level class last week, 15 year old Kelly told me how happy she was that I was her teacher because I had British English. I agreed that it was quite the blessing for her and then she summed up exactly my thoughts on American English...

Kelly: "The other teachers are all American, and I don't like this American English. It is dirty and we should learn British English. When I hear this American is just like, it is earthworm. It is like an earthworm to me. Take it away."

American English IS like an earthworm. All these years I had failed to put my finger on what it was that was not right, and now a moment of clarity. It's like an earthworm. Of course.

And if you thought that was a tad surreal. This last one is even better. This was a homework check in which students must write an original sentence using a word. The word was "similar" and the student was 8 year old Victory. What a name.

I open his book and read: "My little sisters dream is similar to Pat Boone's".

I looked at Victory and said "Pat Boone?", to which he replied "Rock and Roll".

That was all the explanation I could get from him, but I highly doubt that a little Korean girl shares the dreams of a 78 year old former singer whose main beliefs now appear to be that President Obama was born in Kenya and that gay rights are the biggest threat to the USA. Still, perhaps I'm understimating Victory's little sister.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Prejudice And Pepper Spray.

What? Pepper Spray again, I hear you shout. Oh yes indeed, pepper spray again. You may recall that only two blogs ago I spoke about how a young girl in my class had been given pepper spray and how I loved the stuff even though I had
"Never been pepper sprayed or pepper sprayed anyone". 

Well that statement was true at the time, but only half true now. Because last Sunday I pepper sprayed a good friend of mine, and it was all that I could have hoped and dreamed it would be. He yelped, he ran, he winced and he cried hot peppery tears.

After moving apartments with my co worker Jenny who was being stalked by a low level sex pest, she also invested in some pepper spray and it turned out that my friend Eric had always wondered what being pepper sprayed would feel like. It therefore seemed an ideal opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and fulfill a life long ambition for each of us.

I got to pepper spray someone and he got to be pepper sprayed. There really are no losers in such a scenario, only winners. It was a huge victory for me and one firey shot in the eye for all those people who no doubt felt I didn't have it in me to temporarily blind a friend for no good reason. It was also a winning situation for Eric who will never again have to face the ignominy of admitting to others that he has never been pepper sprayed in the face. It was even a win for our friend Jacks who filmed it all and laughed as heartily as you might expect a man to laugh when he sees two friends achieve one of their lifes goals together.

It was a fine ending to a fine week and if I was a more pun based blogger of prose, I might be tempted to say it spiced things up a bit in Daegu. But I'm not that sort of blogger, so I'll just say that there's nothing quite like causing a friend immense pain on a Sunday afternoon. I politely asked him if he had ever been bottled or beaten with a bar stool, and whilst he admitted he had not, he felt that it was not the time or the place to further our breaking of social boundaries and achieving of personal goals. Fair enough, another time perhaps. Although if anyone in Daegu can find me a taser, then Eric is definitely getting electrocuted.

But moving away from such family fun, I have to sadly address a more serious and somewhat sinister story that any of my friends out in Korea will no doubt already be well aware of. That is a feature that ran on one of Korea's major TV networks called MBC only a few weeks ago. The short segment was called "The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners".

What it consisted of was a long list of wild accusations about how westerners come to Korea to prey on Korean women, give them HIV, impregnate them and steal their money. Clearly, my friends and I were fucking furious to see this on national television, as it makes our favourite hobby of victimising Korean women substantially more difficult.

There were of course a few holes in the argument, and I'm not talking about those that I put in my condoms to ensure the creation of HIV riddled infants. Rather holes in the entire piece of "journalism". For a start every foreigner working here has to pass a HIV test. Being HIV negative is on the face of it a good thing, but I can only imagine it is a real drag if you're off around Korea trying to give people HIV.

The other major problem with the ludicrously xenophobic and frankly racist drivel masquerading as an expose, was that the "victims" they contacted were just women who had dated a non Korean man, and when asked said "No I'm not a victim", to which the voice over said "Many of the victims lie about their experiences".


It made many feel concerned about how they were viewed here in Korea, but noticeably it did not seem interested in the notion of Korean men dating non Korean women...what's that MBC, a sprinkling of good old sexism to compliment the racism?

It is grossly unfair to represent foreign men as dangerous and irresponsible, anyone would think we were hanging around drunk in the streets assaulting each other on camera for a laugh. I can tell you now, if anyone from MBC had the nerve to suggest such a thing to me, I'd pepper spray them in a heartbeat and have Jacks film it.

Despite such uproar, I was far from concerned because a few days before myself and my friend Cooper Trooper had been out for a meal and drinks with two Korean victims...ahem...I mean women. They obviously trusted us just fine, but little did I know that rather than being viewed negatively I was about to get a quite glowing endorsement.

The following day, I was tagged in a photograph on Facebook with the girl I had been entertaining with my sparkling wit and array of funny faces. I noticed that several of her friends had commented on the picture, in Korean of course. So intrigued I copied the first comment into Google translate and read:

"Wow, foreigner. JACKPOT!"

That is frankly the type of response I expect everywhere I go from now on. To be fair, I am somewhat of a catch now I think about it, but in my infinite modesty, I'd perhaps never considered myself to be a prize worthy of the "Jackpot" status. Perhaps more of a "Second Prize in a Village Fair Raffle" kind of guy.

But I was wrong. I am a fucking jackpot. Provided she doesn't mean jackpot in a monetary sense of course, because if she thinks I'm wealthy, she is going to be as disappointed as someone with a jackpot winning ticket who is then handed the second prize from a raffle. A raffle that occured at a modest village fair no less.

Nevertheless, I felt a surge of confidence at being bestowed such a high accolade, even if it did objectify me as a trophy, and I vowed to behave accordingly and prove prejudice wrong. I would be a paragon of virtue, a refined English gentleman who would prove MBC wrong and the random girl on Facebook comments absolutely correct.

Then Eric said "I'd like to know what it feels like to be pepper sprayed".

Fine, you win this battle MBC.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Conmen And Inspiration.

Korea is not known for its crime, in fact it is pretty apparent after a while in the country that there is not much obvious crime at all. You never see cars with smashed windows, people don't get mugged and all in all I've had very little opportunity to move from teaching into the life of a career criminal. The more astute amongst you may notice that I just used an ingenius play on words. "Career/Korea" Perhaps stand up comedy could be an alternative route to success with such witty linguistic feats.

Despite my disappointment at the general atmosphere of law abiding, good behaviour, I did at last discover that there was at least one serious criminal in the midst of Daegu. A man, or woman (equal opportunities etc), with not only a total lack of scruples, but a blatant disregard for the safety of children.

If you have read much of this blathering blog before (alliteration there, more linguistic feats), you will have noticed how much my life of teaching involves around talking about pets. I've had children with pet snails and children who have burger eating turtles called Obama. The younger children like to talk about pets and they have a catalogue of surreal reasons for their choice of pet. "Being quiet" was the reason given for why snails make better pets than dogs for example.

It was in a very low level class of particularly small, cherub faced children, that the topic of pets once more reared its bestial head. But this time the children had to draw their pet and tell me something about it. Enter gap-toothed Brian. I should point out that officially he is just called Brian, but between you and me, we can call him by his full name.

Brian told me in massively broken English that his pet kitten broke his house. I've never met someone whose house has been broken by a pet before and if I did and you asked me to guess what type of pet had caused such a calamity, a kitten would be right down near the bottom of my list of guesses. Probably a few places above a quiet snail.

However, when Brian presented me with his picture of his kitten, it became immediately apparent not only why his domestic reside had been so horribly affected but also that Daegu was home to a conman...or woman...of course. A conperson masquerading as a pet shop owner.

Because, it is quite evident from Brians picture that he has been duped, and was not sold a kitten at all. Now, I'm not a zoologist but my animal recognition skills are pretty sharp, I know my cows from my koalas. In addition, I have no reason to believe that Brian is anything other than a hugely accurate artist known in his area for almost photorealistic portraits.

Bearing these two things in mind, I would like you to look at Brian's "kitten" and assess for yourself whether Daegu's most crooked pet shop owner has sold Brian right down the river with no paddle.

Here it is:

Now, I think you would agree that it is patently clear, that poor young Brian has been conned. Because it is fairly obvious, that what he has in fact been sold, is a Velociraptor.

If taxonomy and the animal kingdom are not your forte, you might be unsure as to what a Velociraptor is. Usually, I would roll my eyes at your ignorance, but this time I will simply tell you to watch Jurassic Park clips on Youtube or google it.

It is now quite obvious just how Brian's home got into such a state. Because the upkeep and maintenance of kittens is quite different to that of a dinosaur that most people believed to be extinct.

I was obviously seething with rage at the sort of person who would take a young childs money and hand him a potentially deadly reptile under the guise of it being a kitten. But it does mean that there is a market for con artists in Daegu, which in hindsight is probably something I should have realised sooner given that I am currently employed under the job description of "teacher".

You might also notice if you look at the writing on Brian's picture, that in a moment of breathtaking inspiration he named his "kitten" Brian. Brilliant. And that reference to inspiration segues seemlessly into my next issue.

That issue is an "inspirational video" that my school told us we had to show to everyone of our classes before the final hour of study. This is not uncommon as videos espousing the benefits of English have been shown before, and inspiring the kids who often don't want to be there and would rather be at home playing catch with their dinosaurs, seems a fairly worthwhile goal.

So, I had to accompany every class to our seminar room, where they would watch a video to inspire them and then write their feelings and reactions on the board.

Great, time off from "teaching". The video begins.

It is a video of stills with monks chanting over the background. The stills are all of a Bald Eagle and then a Bald Eagle with a broken beak and finally a normal Bald Eagle flying. There is Korean writing that apparently tells a story of how Bald Eagles reach a certain age where their beaks and talons don't work so they smash them off on rocks and new ones grow and they are reborn and live another thirty years.

What the FUCK does that have to do with English? Not only that, but how does it inspire a student? I asked our boss if they were not concerned that if properly inspired some of the students might take to smashing their noses against their desks.

She smiled at me in a sympathetic way as if I might be a little unwell, but I'm not the one who thinks an urban legend about Bald Eagles will inspire Korean children to practice their subject-verb agreements and study for their vocabulary tests am I?

So the kids filed up to write in Korean (of all things!) their reactions. I sounded out the words they were writing and wondered if "bemused" or "uninterested to the point of mild boredom" had been scrawled up there. None of them seemed very inspired, but they liked the look of the Eagle, so I didn't want to break it to them the whole thing is absolute bollocks too.

Bald Eagles don't break off their beaks, talons or feathers to be reborn and live longer. It doesn't happen. So we may as well have shown a video of how Peter Pan escaped growing old by flying to fucking Nevernever Land. He did? Well knock me down with a Bald Eagle feather, I better go and work on my spelling then.

I don't know where this video nonsense originated from but I have a strong suspicion that it was made by a man (or woman) sitting in a pet shop somewhere in Daegu, selling off unusually scaly and cold blooded kittens. And I want that person to hire me.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Curse Words And Pepper Spray.

Yes, you read correctly. Curse words and Pepper Spray, which are two of my favourite things. I fucking love curse words and I also love (sorry I mean, I also fucking love) Pepper Spray. Granted, I've never been pepper sprayed or pepper sprayed anyone. Yet. But it sounds like a lot of fun and I like spicy things. I actually saw a Youtube video recently of a man who sprayed pepper spray into his own mouth to see what it was like.

It was pretty much as I'd imagine he expected it was going to be and it is probably not unfair to decide that he was an idiot. But not everyone with Pepper Spray is an idiot and thankfully not everyone who is an idiot has Pepper Spray.

So why am I talking about this? Well it's all thanks to a new teacher at my school who we shall call Jenny...mainly because that's her name, but also because I haven't got an appropriate nick name for her. Yet. You may have noticed that is the second single word sentence I've made from the word "yet" and I think it gives my writing an ominous and mildy threatening tone. As if I might pepper spray you at any minute. But I digress...

Jenny has been jogging recently, jogging a little too often for my liking, but not just for the hell of it, but in order to compete in a 10km race. This training appeared to be going well, until there was a bit of a problem one Monday afternoon. After her morning run, she noticed a Korean man outside the apartments. Now, being honest, Korean men are fairly common around here and whilst back home we would obviously be highly suspicious of such a phenomenon, out here in Korea, it's just one of those quirky things that you accept.

However, as Jenny left her apartment an hour later, this man was still there, and at this point, apparently he was masturbating and gesturing her over to join him. Now clearly, such an offer is on the face of it quite friendly and well meaning, but the Korean man in question had obviously got his cultural wires crossed, because he had failed to realise that this was a Monday. Westerners hate Mondays, and while on a Tuesday I'm sure Jenny would have appreciated his kindly overtures and politely declined, on a Monday with the first day of work looming she took it as any westerner would and was disgusted, appalled and angry.

But it got worse. Worse than public masturbation on a Monday you gasp? I know, it seems hard to fathom, that anyone could make a bigger faux pas and yet this man did. Because he repeated his behaviour and also followed her one day. It quickly became apparent to us all, that this man was not guilty of making a one off error of judgement, but was in fact a fucking sex pest. Notice how I managed to get a curse word in there, that's one of my favourite things you know?

Evidently, this deviant was a problem and so our school considered a few options. Jenny could switch apartments with me. Afterall, the likelihood of me being up in the morning and out running is exceptionally small, and therefore I would be unlikely to meet this chap. However, that didn't really solve the problem, because of course Jenny would still like to go out and run, and unless living in my apartment somehow imbued her with an essence of my laziness and apathy, this situation would be unlikely to change.

It was therefore left to one of my students to provide an unwitting solution. Olivia is only 11 or 12 years old but during a discussion about their favourite belongings the following exchange occured...

Olivia: "I need my spray. Is very hot and good for the strange man and thief."

Me: "Your spray? What do you mean? Do you mean you spray a person with it?"

Olivia: "Yes teacher, and if it does, they shout 'Aggghhhhhh' and crying, it's a very good for me."

Me: "You mean Pepper Spray? You have Pepper Spray? Who gave it to you?"

Olivia: "Ah yes, the Pepper Spray. My Auntie buy for me because a strange man tried my window."

Me: "Wow. Okay and have you ever sprayed anybody with it?"

Olivia: "My mother. It was accident teacher, but I spray her and she goes to the hospital and then hit for me when she home."

Me: "You pepper sprayed your mother? And then she hit you when she got back from hospital?"

At this point, I realised I had repeated what she had said several times, and she might be beginning to suspect that I was a bit simple. But laughing away she explained how the accident had occured and yes indeed she pepper sprayed her mother. Not only that, but after much explanation and broken English, I ascertained that it is not legal to buy it here, but that her Auntie had somehow got hold of it "away from the police". Brilliant.
This girl is also friends with my old student "Tiny Gangster" who you may recall had written me on a death wish list.

With Olivia's illegal arms dealing Auntie and Olivia's history of violence, the threat had suddenly become more real.

So I suggested to Jenny that perhaps we could procur an illegal weapon from one of my young students. I can't see any possible issues that could arise from such an arrangement. Either that or if she bumps into this excitable fellow again, she could perhaps just inform him that we teach at the same school as Olivia and her small friend "Tiny Gangster".

As I draw this to a close, you are probably wondering what the link is to curse words. Well, you probably were not wondering anything of the sort and were just wondering who the hell "Tiny Gangster" is, in which case you should have been reading my blog about 18 months ago. Go on, have a look...

The connection is actually in the very same class as Olivia. At the front sit two girls who are even younger and very hard working and enthusiastic. One of them is called Sally and as I explained something, out of absolutely nowhere she just said..."What the fuck teacher?".

I stopped and looked at her in stunned silence for a moment and she said again "What the fuck teacher? What does this mean, what the fuck?"

Me: "Don't say that it is a very bad word."

Sally: "Oh, very bad?"

Me: "Yes very bad, where did you hear it?"

Sally: "Sorry teacher, I heard it at school. In my class, one human told this to me."

One human? What sort of school do Sally's parents send her to, where she needs to explain to me that it was a human in her class who told her the swear word? I wanted to get to the bottom of this, but as I began to question her I noticed Olivia was miming a spraying motion at me and making a hissing sound like "Tssss...tssss".

I took that to mean that I had asked enough and so I don't know anything more about Sally's mixed species classroom. Yet.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Brandy And Cobblers

I am not dead. It is however, 6 months since I wrote a blog and therefore nobody will probably read this or remember who I am. I made a wild and foolish decision 6 months ago that destroyed any hope I had of maintaining my trivial musings on life in Korea.
I decided to actually gain a small teaching qualification so that I could actually teach. As a teacher, this might on the face of it seem like a sharp and almost ingenious move; but in reality it involved having to do more work after finishing working. I don't like working. Working for no money is something I like even less, and so I procrastinated and moaned incessantly for 6 months as I learnt how to teach.

So much has happened that I don't know where to begin. Luckily none of what happened was really noteworthy to anyone other than myself, so I'll summarise some key landmarks. Christmas came. I'm not sure if you remember that, but it happened...AGAIN. My friend Huckle dressed up as Father Christmas to entertain the kids, but by lurking around the corridors and leaping out at them, it had more of a white bearded, paedophile in bright trousers feel to it than might have been intended. Still the kids liked it, must have been the trousers. Or maybe it was the beard.

Our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il died. And my own dear mother came to visit me in Korea. I should point out at this juncture that the two incidents were totally unrelated, in fact my mother is so left wing that she is bordering on being a communist anyway. If anything her arrival would have given the North Korean mourners some welcome support in their time of need.

My mother enjoyed Korea and her visit actually made me go out and see Korea. It was a whirlwind of cultural shenanigans, that included Temples, Stone Buddahs, Singing Rooms and much more besides. She also wanted to visit the North Korean border or DMZ as it's known, which given her political persuasions obviously raised my suspicions. I informed the CIA and then booked us both a tour, but the whole thing went off without any real incident and I managed to buy a bottle of North Korean Pear Brandy.

The words "North Korean Pear Brandy" have been said a lot recently. Usually in the sentence, "Would anyone like to drink this North Korean Pear Brandy with me?" If I had never moved to Korea and someone had offered me North Korean Pear Brand I would have been eager and pleasantly surprised by their kind gesture. If I was offered North Korean Pear Brandy by a friend out here in Korea, I would be as happy as a communist, British mother being taken to the North Korean border by a son who had recently earned a suspect teaching certificate.

But so far, it sits sneering at me alongside my bottle of North Korean Soju. Wait a minute, I hear you shout, nobody told us about the North Korean Soju. Well now I'm telling you. I also have some North Korean Soju. I'm a veritable gold mine of North Korean alcoholic beverages.

In the time that I have been away working, studying and failing to entice people with the fermented fruits of Karl Marx's writings, several teachers and friends have left and several new additions have arrived and one in particular has been a source of great amusement so far.

As you are aware, I am very fond of mocking things. In particular ludicrous things that people say. People who don't think before speaking. My favourite hobby of mocking has been seriously compromised since Little Spoon departed back to LA and I had to make do with sporadic conversations on Skype to get my fix of gibberish.

That was until my little brothers friend arrived in Daegu and under his recommendation looked me up. Due to the fact that this young woman is also the worlds worst cook, I will give her the nickname Chef. Chef has been here a couple of months and has blessed me with a wealth of ridiculous statements and also earned her nickname after adding washing-up liquid to an omelette rather than pepper, frying tomatoes in vinegar instead of oil and making a sweetcorn sandwich with pieces of lettuce replacing bread. Because she had no bread.

I have no doubt that some of her nonsense will form many a blog to come, but for now I will share one story that actually does not involve her, but rather her shoes. Chef had a pair of shoes in which the sole was peeling away and upon hearing that a tiny old cobbler lived near my apartment she dropped off her shoes and asked me to have them cobbled.

If you are too young to remember the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, then a cobbler is someone who fixes shoes. This cobbler appears to have learnt his trade in around about the late 19th Century and there was therefore always a risk that if I did not get these shoes cobbled pronto, that he could well die.

There was of course a small problem that stood like a diminutive problematic thing between me and the cobbler. Language. Due to my commitments and my erm...pathetic lack of motivation in general life, my Korean remains woeful. My poor attitude to language skills seemed to be something that the cobbler and I had in common, as in his 110 years or so in Korea he appeared to have inexplicably learnt no English.

He probably thought he didn't need it, well what a load of old cobblers (apologies to Americans for the forced nature in which I squeezed in that dreadful pun based on an old British saying), because here I was stood before him with some women's shoes and not a lick of relevant Korean. Being a cobbler he sussed out the problem pretty sharpish. Some shoes needed fixing.
However, he clearly thought they were my shoes and yet these were a woman's shoes and no mistake.

I don't know if you recall my blog from late 2011 about my incident with the feminine umbrella, but if not then be aware that I was forced to walk to work one day using a very feminine umbrella. It dawned on me that I walk past the cobbler on the way to work and there are not many white people in this area. If he had seen me with that umbrella and now I was here presenting women's shoes to be cobbled, by God I'd be the laughing stock of Daegu's pensioners!

I wanted him to know that they were not mine, but pointing across the street towards the mountains, pointing at yourself and shaking your head, simply does not say "These aren't my shoes mate, they're a female friend of mines and I'm just doing her a favour".

In fact it probably says more along the lines of "See those yonder mountains old man, I wish to walk them, but alas I cannot because my girly shoes are broken".

I gave up trying to make excuses and comforted myself with the knowledge that he would probably not be around long enough for word to spread too far about my dress code. I had managed to find out that they would be done within an hour, so an hour later I returned to collect mean Chef's boots.
It was at this point that I nearly compounded my humiliation, because although I can say thank you, I don't know the very basic term "very good". I do however know "Delicious".

As he handed the perfectly cobbled shoes to me, I immediately thanked him and as he looked up expectantly I thought I'd better let him know just how good his work was, and started to mumble the Korean for delicious. Thankfully as the first syllable left my mouth, I stopped myself, otherwise I would have left an ancient cobbler with the impression that I am a man who collects women's shoes in order to taste them.

Not only that, but so discerning is my palate for leather based footwear, that I simply could not abide licking and chewing upon an old boot that had a peeling sole, and thus I would come to a cobbler for way of seasoning as it were. Ah yes, the soles are fixed back on these beauties, right off to the mountains with these for a picnic, delicious!