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"So I guess this is where I'm supposed to introduce myself. I'm a Canadian male teaching ESL in Seoul, Republic of Korea. This will be my second stint teaching ESL, only this time I'll be teaching at a High School, using my actual teaching experience to use. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me - no question's too small. Take care, and enjoy the ride."

Other Blogs of Note

  • Student in Korea
  • Seoul Man
  • The Daily Kimchi
  • Surviving South Korea
  • Books I'm Reading

  • "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire" by Niall Ferguson
  • "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami
  • "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" by Samuel P. Huntington
  • "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" by Benjamin M Friedman
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  • Two months...and now this? Tuesday, May 06, 2008 |

    Well, I probably should have done this a lot sooner, but, alas, just like a short time ago, you lose track of time, and before you know it, you're saying to yourself "oh, wait, I have a blog....maybe I should post something...."
    So in case anyone had not fully understood why things had dropped off, my contract finished approximately two months ago, after which I moved back home to Canada. What have I been doing in the mean time? Looking for a teaching job (and so too apparently is everyone else...) and not finding one. Unlike most teachers in Korea, I'm actually a certified teacher, and coming back in March, the school year is nearing its final swing, and jobs are in short supply. Its been hard, going from working full-time to pretty much being unemployed, and I got to say, I'd rather be employed, and not just for the money.
    If you're just reading this site for the first time, allow myself to introduce....myself. I (was) a teacher in Korea for almost three years, and what you will find on this site is a rather comical, sometimes boring account of what it was like to teach in Korea from 2005 until 2008, give or take a few months in between. There are (somewhat) funny anecdotes, comical student stories, and just plain simple stuff about what its like living in Korea.
    If you've been reading this site diligently for the past while, in a word, THANKS:) You reading has made it worthwhile for me to keep it up (and apparently, some of you have been somewhat faithful - website counters have me at close to 7000 hits, and considering that this blog started out as a "family-only" idea, its turned into something much bigger than I had ever imagined. Thanks for reading.
    As from here, I don't know exactly what I will be doing . I want to be teaching ,but jobs are hard to come by where I am living now. Who knows, come this fall, I might be teaching somewhere, at which point, maybe I'll start up another blog, only this time it won't likely be as interesting, as it will be from teaching in a Canadian school - who knows, maybe I'll let any of you decide....
    Well, I am off - In closing, I'm tipping my hat off to you, whomever is reading this - it's been a heck of a ride, I must say, and I dare say it will be over. Currently I am in a relationship with a Korean, so who knows, maybe I'll be heading back to teach in Korea in the next few upcoming years....who knows :) As one final send off of gratitude, I'll include a picture, so if you've ever been wondering whose been writing this blog, you'll be able to see - no name, but at least a picture (I'm sure some of you already know my name...) If you want, I'd love to hear any stories from anyone whose been reading this blog - any funny incidents that stick out in your minds?
    Well, I'm finally off. Thanks all, and God bless!

    Second Post Today...bonus Thursday, March 06, 2008 |

    So this past week, two things came to light that I thought I would bring up vis a vis the old blog.

    One, I've almost always taken the local village bus to work. Yes, I'm lazy, and I would rather have the extra time to sleep in, and two, when its freezing cold outside, the twenty-thirty minute walk isn't up my alley. So there.

    So I take the bus, and this past week, after a nice long break, school started back up. Not that it really ever stopped, but for the most part, all students started coming back to classes.

    Now, Koreans have a similar education enrollment system like that in North America - you can send your child to any school that you would like, provided a) the school has room for all of their local students first, and then other students who wish to attend their school, and b) you can get your child to school if they aren't within a reasonable distance. So on my village bus, which goes through most major neighbourhoods, two things became startling. One, Korean children don't show their "scared" nature very strongly. On my village bus, two children, one can't be any older than studying in FIRST GRADE takes the bus every day. Not only does he stand at the bus stop by himself, but he walks up, flags the bus down (all 2.5 of the kid) and promptly marches up, drops his 1000 Won into the payment slot, and proudly counts to make sure that he has the correct change. The other child is probably studying in around Third grade, which is an accomplishment in itself. Not only that, but these kids talk to the local retired folks on the bus, who, on more than on occasion remind them "shouldn't you be in school" to which they say something to the tune of "I am - I am going now" to the retiree's shock. This shocks me, only because I can't remember the first time I took public transportation on my own, and I grew up in a relatively small city compared to where I am teaching now...these kids have quite the courage...I'm duly impressed.

    The other thing is that all middle and high school students must wear a uniform to school everyday. Now, once they enter school, many of them take out their name-brand sweaters, coats, and change their uniforms in a multitude of ways, to maximize their wealth, or ability to look spiffy.

    The comical thing is that each day, the students must walk through the school gates and pass inspection by students who have failed uniform inspection more than few times. So the students who are caught multiple times must show up early, in perfect uniform, and be 'inspectors", and try to catch students sneaking in without wearing their full uniform. Now, usually students forget their zipper tie the most. So students often will find other students playing basketball who have already passed inspection, and "bribe" them for their ties- you only need your tie to pass inspection, after that, its discarded faster than yesterdays homework. Well, the school has instituted a new policy for the "inspectors" - they must meet a certain "quota" before they can leave their post. So what was before a somber group of inspectors trying to find people sneaking into school, fulfilling their "weekly" commitment has now become a group of seriously motivated "inspectors" chasing students all over the walkway leading up to the entrance gate. Its quite comical just watching them - students will go as far as robbing their best friend of their necktie, throwing it over the fence, and then watch as they get reported. It takes multiple uniform infractions before students change their post, however, the comedy I get to watch each morning walking into work makes me think I'm going to miss this year...

    have a great week all, and

    God bless

    starting to wrap things up... |

    So things are finally starting to slow down. I know its been a while since my last post, and I'm realizing that I haven't even had the time to post that I'm almost done with Korea, possibly for good. Last time I was in this situation, I was torn with leaving Korea, and feeling like I could easily see myself going back, if no jobs arise upon returning to Canada. Well, another year has come and gone, and I'm just about finished up with Korea. I'll be coming home sometime in March, and hopefully finding a teaching job in Ontario, shortly after arriving at home. I know that I'll be coming home to a market where teachers are begging to be hired, but I'm hoping that my three years of teaching experience teaching something will mean that I have a better chance at getting a job than some other people coming straight out of Teachers College. So we'll see where that job situation ends up.

    I'm not fully into retrospective mode yet, or reflective yet on my past three years, or one year teaching at my present school, so I'll finish the old blog off somehow else once I arrive back home, where I can give it a better go than right now, where things are still fresh in my mind, as I'm still teaching, working, and, less proudly, still not packed even though I'm scheduled to move out the bulk of my stuff this weekend...once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. So enjoy the last posts while you can, because sooner or later, this good thing will come to an end.

    have a great day all, and God bless,

    Graduation and....baking? Thursday, February 14, 2008 |

    So today brought about the graduation of my school's third grade middle school students. Normally a rowdy, loud, disrespectful bunch, today they were quiet, reserved, and respectful (because their parents were here).

    Now, the graduation ceremony is nothing like what you would expect from back home - with so many students, freezing cold temperatures outside, and no gymnasium to squeeze all of the students and parents into, everyone just watched the "ceremony" with their parents in whatever classroom they were assigned to....a very boring, unexcited affair of watching the whole event on a jumbo television. Not my idea of fun, but then again, I wasn't required to participate - only third grade homeroom teachers are required to dress up, and the rest of us just loafed around, and did the stuff that teachers do when they aren't teaching.

    What was comical however was the Korean tradition (from what has been explained to me) of what the students do once they've graduated. Because theirs no offical ceremony of passing the certificate to the students, the students just show up in their uniforms....and at this point, they're "itching" to rip it off for good. So after all of the formalities are over, and the parents have gone back to the work, the students whip out......flour and eggs; Lots and LOTS of eggs. What happens next is hard to witness, as the flour somewhat blocks a clear view. However, when the "dust" settles, what you have are students covered head to toe in egg yolk, shells, and tonnes of flour everywhere - most importantly, all over their uniform.

    So that's middle school graduation in a nutshell. At my school, the administration purchased huge flower bouquets for display outside of the school. Some of the third grade "better-behaved" students decided to give the school one final reason to be glad they're gone. They took ALL of the flowers, took them to the road, and proceeded to backup traffic while they threw, stomped, and egged all of the flowers. You'd almost think that a wedding ceremony had taken place outdoors. In secret, the teachers lauded their final sendoff, but when they came in after showering, they were warned to NOT do that once they got to high school...i'm sure they've forgotten it already :)
    take care all, and
    God bless

    From the office of "whoops".... Tuesday, February 12, 2008 |

    Well, for those of you who watch international news, you might already know of this story. For those of you who don't, well, read on.
    Less than two weeks ago,
    South Korea's National Treasure No. 1 Sungnyemun, (more commonly known as Namdaemun ~ translated, it means "the South Gate") was set on fire by an arsonist. Now, the reason this falls under the files of "whoops" is because the way that the events transpired happened in a way that somewhat is typical of Korea. But first, a few pictures to help you understand what this is about.

    1st - this picture was taken from the Japanese archive, around 1910.
    2nd - this picture came from the first opening of the gate in 1963 to the public.
    3rd - the official restoration ceremony, where the gate became fully open to the public, 2006.
    4th - taken on the 10th of February, while the fire was ravaging the gate.

    Now, here's where the whole "whoops" comes into play. Firstly, for their number one national treasure, there was never someone posted to "guard" the gate during the early morning, or on weekends at night. Despite its high ranking, there were no infrared sensors or fire sprinklers inside the gate, and only EIGHT fire extinguishers were placed to protect the national treasure. But it gets worse. The man they just arrested (and he subsequently admitted shortly after arrest) was previously arrested for setting fire to another national treasure, a major palace, (also a high-ranking national treasure)! Not only that, but he was released shortly after being placed in jail for that offence. And what do you think set this man off to set fire to both National Treasures? The official chief of police in Namdaemun reported: "Chae confessed to starting the fire, saying he was upset by a land grievance that led him to start the 2006 fire and by the sentence he was handed in that case..."

    A land grievance....Mr.Chae, as he's now being referred to, said he chose Namdaemun because of its easy to access location, lack of security, and far-enough distance from local housing, so that it wouldn't hurt anybody. (Well, if you could find one glimmer from this situation, you can at least appreciate him for thinking "that" much ahead....Naw).
    Sometimes, Koreans are just a little too trusting for thier own good. I love them for their innocence, and sometimes inapparent ability to conceive that something like this could actually happen. I feel really bad, because its one of the most-recognizable features for Seoul World-wide, and for a long time, there will be a lot of inconveniences when trying to reach future monuments not just in Seoul, but country-wide.
    Chalk it up to another "whoops" experience, and hopefully Korea will learn from the experience...
    God bless,

    Some Korean "love".... Thursday, January 17, 2008 |

    So I promised two stories about events that made me like Korea again after a hard day at work. So without further adieu, here's the second story of something that made me fall in love with Korea.
    Some of you might remember how I just posted about how Seoul has been setting up their ice-skating rinks in different parts of the city this year. The only thing holding them back was something that you can't buy everywhere in Asia...a Zamboni. This past January they finally finished completing the ice-skating rink in
    Bundang, quite close to where I live. This was especially nice because as it was new, all the skates and blades were new, as opposed to the well-worn and dull skates found at the much more popular City Hall rink.
    So a good teaching friend of mine and I decided to go skating. She hadn't gone in, well, she couldn't remember the last time she had gone skating. We met at
    Seohyun station, and walked the short five minutes there. It was a beautiful night, cold, and a sprinkling of snow was falling - perfect for night skating. We got there early, and as they were cleaning off the ice, we thought it would be perfect it nobody else came - skating on an ice-rink in Korea is sometimes taking your own life into your hands...hundreds of people on one rink, with many of them not having the same advantage as North American people have makes for a lot of people skating out of control....
    As the Zamboni driver cleared off the rink, the snow started falling a little more and more, to the point that the Zamboni tried to keep up with it, but he couldn't. As he finished cleaning off the rink, he told the University student who does "crowd control" to tell the people that the rink was closed. So the student comes into the box where we were waiting, he tells us that the rink was closed. We were disappointed, but there wasn't anything we could do. However, as soon as the Zamboni driver sees us, he says to the student: "
    Foreigners?" (in Korean, of course). "Okay, no problem - let them skate, but only them" (again, in Korea - the Univ. student translated for us).
    So, much to our utter shock, we were allowed to skate on the rink as the Zamboni driver patched the holes on the outdoor rink. What further shocked us was that as multiple Korean families walked up to ask to go skating, they told them that the rink was "closed", even though we were clearly skating in circles, gleefully enjoying the wide open spaces. It was quite possibly one of the most fun times I'd had in a long time. Sure, the whole staff at the public rink thought that my friend and I were dating, to which we both had a good laugh about. We both enjoyed the skate so much that afterwords, we bought the whole staff a dozen donuts. When we handed it to the staff, the looks on their faces was one of utter shock - they all stood at the gate and waved at us as we walked away from the rink - it felt like a commercial - cheesy, but rather comical.
    So those are two stories which made me come to love Korea again. Sometimes, this country drives you nuts enough to wonder why in blazes your working here, as opposed to in some other country where you don't occasionally get treated like yesterday's leftover food. And then things like this happen, and I'm glad God has me here, and not anywhere else:)
    take care all,
    God bless

    the Korean grind.... Wednesday, January 16, 2008 |

    Living and working in a foreign country has its highs and lows, and each come with their benefits and disadvantages. For one, the language difference can sometimes spurn you to "want" to study the language harder, so that the next time you have a problem, you are not relying on the same people to help you out. It can also be aggravating, when, for example, the Korean lunch delivery man blamed me for moving my "dirty-dishes food basket" on him, when it wasn't me, but merely the security guard at the school, trying to help him out.
    (two point note here)
    One - Korean food always comes with free delivery, as long as you order from a Korean restaurant close to where you live - which is virtually a guarantee, since restaurants over here blanket every free wall-space with advertisements. Two, they deliver all of their food on reusable bowls, plates, and silverware (say for wooden chopsticks). It's very refreshing, considering they could always use paper, or something disposable - the fact that they're doing the reusable also creates more work for them as well - and yet it remains so cheap...)

    Okay, so back to the story. Living here can have both benefits and disadvantages - and this holds true for so much more than just languages as well. The nice thing is that sometimes, the strangest events can happen that make you smile, and forget about all of those other things that aggravate you to death. Here is one example which sticks out in my mind, having happened not too long ago.....I'll post another story in a day or so of the same variety :) Enjoy!

    For those of you who remember, a Korean Sauna is a bit of a harrowing experience the first time for a foreigner. For those of you who would like a previous re-counting of my first Sauna experience, you can read about it HERE. So here I was after going to the gym, and I was just finishing up my whole shower, when i feel this child somewhat staring at my, in a "look at me" kind of way. Now, sometimes my workout-finishing time will coincide with the end of the children's swimming lesson. The showers and hot-pool will be inundated with all sorts of children of all ages running around, the "Ajushi" shower-man trying to tell the kids to stop running, and the swimming instructors getting out as quickly as they can. So I'm just about to head out when I notice a small boy staring at me. He was holding out a huge bottle of shampoo, and by gesture, was asking me if I wanted some. So I said "a/sah" in Korean, which made him giggle quite a bit (a/sah is Korean for "very nice"). So the little child tips the bottle over, gives it a huge squeeze, and nothing but a huge "fart-like" sound emits from the bottle. Both the child and I laughed a little, and then, as he goes to shake the bottle for the second "go", as he brings it down, the child squeezes a blob of shampoo into my hand so big I could have washed my hair for a month - it was flowing out of my hands. At this point, the child looked almost scared, as if I'd tell him he just wasted the shampoo by pushing too hard. So, instead, I said "a/sah!" with extra emphasis, stuck it all in my hair, and said "Kam/sa/ham/ne/da" - which is the English writing of "thank-you" in Korean. This brought a smile so big to his face, that he turned around, ran into the other half of the showers, and proceeded to tell all his friends about what just happened. This brought five other kids running to see if his story held-up, and once they saw me, and I saw them, I said "Boo!" and tried to chase them around the shower. Not the brightest idea, but the kids loved it, and I felt good about Korea.
    Story two is coming hopefully tomorrow
    God bless all, and enjoy the wonder of winter

    A whole new year.... Sunday, January 13, 2008 |

    So, belated happy new year to all of those who are still reading:) Apologies for the long break between posts - I actually was scared to check to see when the last time I had actually updated. So allow me the joy of posting a little longer post than normal.
    First, Christmas in Seoul.
    Korea is predominantly two major religions: Christian and Buddhist. The Christians love Christmas, for it is a very large holiday, and its a time of blessings, love, and for the kids, presents. The Buddhist's love it because they get the day off, and because Korea is such a "service" type of country, most of the restaurants stayed open.
    Last year, in Seoul, Korea finally converted their wide-open city-hall space into a massive ice-skating rink, to massive popular approval. Koreans are known world-wide for their speed-skating (who would think that a country so inept at skating could produce Olympians in speed-skating. It'd be like Canadians winning, I don't know, a host of surfing medals, only, in consecutive Olympics....if you lived here, you'd understand the head-scratching of this....Anyways, I digress. Here's a picture of what their whole ice-skating rink looks like.
    Its actually quite a beautiful rink. That "castle like" structure goes all the way around, and it lights up the whole neighbourhood. The best part of this whole scheme is that renting skates is 1000 Won, or effectively 1 dollar. You usually get to skate for just over an hour and a half, and then they kick everyone off, clean the ice, and by the time the kids get their skates off, they run around to the doors beside the Zamboni platform, and play around in the huge pile of snow the Zamboni dropped out of its front. To these kids, they stare at the truck as if its a snow-making machine...a Zamboni? In Korean, its written as 참보니 - with no "Z" in Korean, its pronounced "cham-bo-ni". So that's the story of Christmas in Korea. They open the ice-rink around late November, and it stays open till mid-January. And then in typical Korean fashion, the whole thing will be dismantled in less than 24 hours, and it will look like the whole thing was never there.
    New Years Eve. New Years Eve in Korea is quite a spectacle. For once in the country, fireworks are allowed to be lit, but only in the street. Korea, which has mandatory military service or police service (you basically do Riot Police duty) were there in huge numbers....almost one riot police officer for each Korean or foreigner there. My friends and I went to the main area, without knowing what or where we were going; we basically followed the "follow the crowd" principle. The main area for New Year Eve, where there's a big bell, which gets rung quite a few times to ring in the near year. I have no idea how many times, because there were more than 100,000 people all trying to get within viewing range of a massive bell that was completely cordoned off by riot police four deep, upwards of seven, depending on how close to the celebrities they were. Basically, the only "legal" firecracker you could use were "roman candles" which actually made the air nice and smoky, which worked well for taking time-delayed shots, or slow-motion photography, showing the streaks of the roman candle firecrackers. Here's the best shot I could manage during what henceforth shall be known as the "Human Stampede of 2008".

    I have never been so tightly packed into one place. For the most part, you had no control over where the crowd was moving; you just all moved as "one". At one point, it was so crowded, and the people were pushing so hard that I could not put my foot down - there was no room for my foot. It truly is a miracle that no one was stampeded to death; and this was before the Korean Pop sensations "Super Junior" took the stage.....Curious who they are? check out the video below....

    When that started, it was mayhem. They sang only one song, but the push towards the front of the stage was the tightest space I've ever been in my life. Good times. Not the song so much, but just being in that area. Strangely enough, when doing the countdown, in most places I've been, they countdown the number that is showing on the big digital screen, and everyone counts along - not so in Korea. They were always one number ahead, so when the 10 flashed on the screen, everyone screamed "9" in Korean...and when they got to "1" the whole place went bananas for Koreans...they screamed, made some noise, and then quickly forgot what they were supposed to do, and started pushing around to get their way out of the crowd. Definately something i'll remember for a long time.
    So that's my recap of Christmas and New Years Eve in Korea. I promise to report on two comical incidents sometime soon, and I will also do a more concerted effort to write more frequently. Enjoy the nice winter weather.
    God bless,

    Last Second Words of Wisdom....

    "Korea is an amazing country; you just need to give it a chance. The fact that you get to brag that you've got a despot as your next door neighbour to the North is just an added bonus; how many of your other friends can brag that they went to North Korea on a weekend trip, climbed a mountain, sat in a hot spa, and witnessed a North Korean circus? I thought so.... Sure, the old Koreans might push and shove you like you don't belong in "their" country, but really, name an old person who doesn't push - the only difference is that you don't understand them when they're belittling you; and are you really all that worse for wear NOT understanding them? I thought not.....If you're looking for additional blogs or news sources, go ahead and check out some of the other blogs - "The Daily Kimchi" is a good place to start..."