Now I’m back in climes far colder and rainier, I’ve have plenty of time to reflect and write about my experiences. I still procrastinate, and achieve virtually nothing in the mornings, but I have the afternoons to actually get something done, rather teach/feed candy to young kids. I’m treating this as a final blog, despite the ever expanding list of topics that keep popping into my head when I reflect upon my time in Korea.
Anyway, the theme of this post is a bit of a list. An embellished list. The pros and cons of my year in Korea. While it’s great to be back and despite how much I berated their culture, there are a few things that Kim Jong-un’s neighbours offer that my beloved Britain just can’t…
What I’ll Miss
The little kids- As much as they often infuriated me with their lack of interest in what I had to say and their incessant pleas of “Teacher… GAME,” there’s nothing quite like knowing that, to some of these kids, you’re their idol. For most of the real young’uns, you’re their first ever foreign teacher (for some, I taught them English from scratch). I can safely say that I changed their lives forever, by introducing them to the wonders of Simon Says, and my party trick, which was to throw them up in the air and catch them on the way down (three times per go). On my final day, I had a queue of twelve kids for this ride. They would also regularly sit on my knee while I was planning lessons. And one little girl, Kayla came in for hugs on every single one of my breaks during my final day. I was the epitome of the ‘cool teacher’.
The older kids- Middle school kids were a different kettle of fish. Making silly faces was out of the question. And a lot of them were too fat to pick up and throw in the air. So, I actually had to relate to them. Be a Jack Black in School of Rock kind of figure. Or like the teacher from Warrior. The results spurned some classic moments. The top of the bunch had to be when I asked one of my students, Sally, what she would do if she had one million dollars. She replied: “I would make you my slave. And then I would ride you.” In a move that was no way inappropriate, I then explained what that actually means, ridiculing her in front of the entire class. That one moment made my entire month. Other inspirational lessons I gave involved explaining that “negro” and “black” were not offensive terms, but “n***er” was the word that you can’t say. Cue the boys calling each other that word for the rest of the lesson. For some reason, they were desperate to have my replacement be black...
Free meals- Koreans are overwhelmingly generous. One time, my flatmate and I were eating out at a restaurant. A drunken man idled over to our table and began to communicate using the English staples of “hello” and “handsome man,” followed by a thumbs up. After a while, he beckoned his embarrassed son over to our table, and instructed us to drill him with questions. We didn’t mind- he paid for our entire meal and drinks for the entire night. When was the last time that happened to you at Nandos?
The weekends- Weekends are the main reason you should go to Korea. There’s so much to do, at such a low price. Rock climbing, skiing, trips to the beach, visiting temples, bungee jumping, playing football, eating out. In England, I only ever do one of these things- and the people I play with are a**holes.
The food- There are so many dishes to miss. Adding to beauty of their taste is the fact that they’re so cheap, yet actually pretty decent. For the price of a Quarter Pounder meal at Maccy D’s you can have Galbi (barbecued beef steak) with all you can eat sides, for example. Other cuisinary delights were bibimbap, samgyupsal, kimchi, bulgogi, mandu and pajeon, to name a few. I realise you have no idea what these are- that’s what Google is for. Plus, there’s not the thing in England where, if it tastes good, it will eventually kill you through heart disease. Just a minor advantage. I think that’s so many people smoke in Korea. Aside from cigarettes being ridiculously cheap, it’s population control. If they didn’t light up, they’d live to actually see the economy claw its way out of the recession.
What I’m not going to miss
Ajumas- The bane of my life. The rudest and most illogical people you’ll ever meet. An ajuma is technically a married woman in Korea, but we just use it to refer to old women. As they’re old, they’re unnecessarily bitter about something that affects them astonishingly little. Call me a scrooge, but I won’t miss them, elbowing their way to the front of queues, and just going about their daily business with about as much regard for others as music critics have for Nickelback.
The kids- When they’re in the mood, teaching is the easiest and most rewarding job in the world. But let’s be realistic, most of the time, they aren’t. The little ones are hard to control as shouting at them just makes them cry. It makes me feel like a big man, but isn’t exactly conducive to teaching. I resolved this with my teaching sidekick- candy. The trouble is, if you give them one piece, they completely forget that you gave it to them five seconds later, and immediately demand candy again, like it’s their God-given right. It’s not. Now sit down, you little s**t.
And the older ones, if you shout, don’t take a blind bit of notice. And candy is about as useful a sidekick as Robin. They just want money. Piss off …
Korean co-teachers- They’re supposed to be helpful. But the majority are either painfully bossy, or painfully useless. The bossy ones tell you to basically do your job for them- and seem confused when you’re not able to complete half of the book in one lesson. The useless ones will frequently ask your opinion, only to completely contradict/ignore what you say. In the beginning, it frustrated me with aplomb. By the end, I cared as much about the words that came out of their mouths as they did about mine.
Shopping- As a person with testicles, shopping is never an enticing prospect on the day’s agenda. In Korea, it has the appeal of a night in a jimjilbang (see last blog). Sales assistants stalk you from the moment you walk in, which is alarmingly invasive. They’re just there to help you, Koreans tell me. But, if I have a question for them, neither my Korean tongue nor their English tongues are well equipped enough to achieve customer satisfaction. However, I never did learn the Korean for “f**k off.” No-one to blame but myself, then.
The food- Though there were many delights for my tongue, there were an awful lot of things I couldn’t eat. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m not a fussy eater. But most Korean food tends to have one flavour- burn-your-tongue-off spicy. You know how we buy chillies in bags of two or three? They sell them in packs of about thirty. They all go into one dish. It wasn’t good news for me because spicy food makes me sweat profusely.
Christmas- You can’t beat the traditional, laze about at home watching movies and Christmas specials on TV, while Mum does all the cooking. Well, I had none of that- I spent the past Christmas skiing. “Lucky you”, you may think. You’re probably one of those people who revel in the opportunity to get away from home and go on holiday at Christmas time. Well, you’ve got a crap family. I’m twenty-three, I know, but there’s still a kid in me yet. Half of me is twenty years old, and worrying about getting a job and what the future holds. The other half of me is three years old, and still loves opening presents in the living room with my parents.
Korean Culture- It’s interesting, sure. But ‘interesting’ actually means it’s so far removed from your own culture and ideals, that you can only tolerate it for a short period of time. Intolerant, am I?! I don’t see why I should tolerate some of the ridiculous things that Korean logic determines acceptable. Just because you are older than me, you don’t have a right to my respect. Just because I’m western, doesn’t mean I have AIDS. Why the hell would I want to sleep on the floor?!? I’m not a dog. Why would I want to eat sat on the floor with my legs crossed?!? It’s not school assembly. Just because I’m white, doesn’t mean I’m a Christian. Yes, I HAVE eaten lunch. I look tired?? Thanks, you look s**t too.
So, there you go. I hope you enjoyed reading the blog. It disappoints me that I can’t freely spout outspoken rants anymore, as people now actually understand me. Saying that, there are far more foreign food stores in the area now, that have popped up in my absence. With a little bit of research about the Polish, I’m sure I can come up with something that is fundamentally wrong about them also.
Anyway, I have to go now-I’ve got a doctor’s appointment to get this blasted tongue removed from my cheek. It’s been bothering me for over a year now...