Friday, March 22, 2013

Ground Hog Day

I have just finished the end of my...... I think it is 3rd week? Yes, 3rd week teaching English. I am starting to know how Bill Murray felt in Ground Hog Day. I have been reliving the same day over and over again for the last couple of weeks. Each day is a little different, but my classes are essentially all the same. I change between 3 different lesson plans depending on the grade I am teaching. I am looking forward to teaching something different next week (though I still need to finish off the lesson plans). Classes have gone well but I did have 1 problem class this week. In the class were 5 boys who clearly did not want to be there and couldn't care less about English. I have since found out that they cause problems in all classes (not just English). I am not sure yet what I will do. If I can work out how to stop them disrupting the other students I will be happy. I tried separating them but that just resulted in them talking louder so they could hear each other across the room. 

Weekend in Iksan and Jeonju

Last weekend I traveled to Iksan all by myself to visit Jihyeon. I managed to get there without any assistance which I am proud of. 

On my way to Iksan I spotted someone moving into a new apartment. The Engineer in me thought it was interesting. I have never seen anything like this before. The load up an platform and send it up the outside of the building and then offload it through the balcony window. The elevators and stair wells in the unit complexes are quite small, so I guess this is the only way to get large furniture into the apartments. 

The first sign (that I have seen) that spring is on its way. WOOT!!! I can't wait for it to warm up.

And.... I made it to Iksan successfully. 

Now, I have been making a conscious effort to avoid the big M but Jihyeon really wanted to go there for lunch. I got the Bulgogi burger which is basically a normal hamburger but the meat is covered in some sort of Bulgogi sauce. It is pretty good. I don't know if I will go back to a quarter pounder or a cheese burger again. Also note how they served us in plastic glasses instead of the normal paper cup. I seized the moment and taxed one to use at home.

And yes that is right. Like most food in Korea (you will like this +David van Bilsen), you can get McDonalds delivered to your house by scooter (for free). 

We then headed to the movies to see Warm Bodies (zombie movie). It wasn't great but parts were funny. I crashed at Jihyeons place Saturday night. Her mum seems to like me, she kept giving me food and went out and bought some oranges and apples just for me :).

On Sunday we headed to Jeonju to visit a Hanok village. Hanok is a term used to describe traditional Korean housing. I went there in 2011 when I was last in Korea, but Jiheyon wanted to go with me so we headed off to Jeonju (about 1 hour from Iksan by bus) to have a squiz. It was good to check it out again and have a personal guide to explain some of the stuff to me. 

The painting in the background below is of the first king (Taejo Yi Seong-gye) of the Joseon period. You can read more about it here if you want but I will give you a quick rundown. The Kingdom of Joseon lasted for about 5 centuries and was founded after the overthrow of the Goryeo Dynasty. During this period Confucian ideals were integrated into society and a great deal of emphasis was placed on trade, science, literature and technology. It was in this period that the old Chinese characters were abandoned and a new writing style was invented by King Sejong the Great

The Koreans built sort of a temple/fort around the building where the painting is housed to protect it. This is the main entrance. 

For lunch we went to a Korean restaurant (the queue was out the door waiting for a table) and I had Kalguksu which is a Korean noodle dish consisting of handmade knife-cut wheat flour noodles served in a large bowl with broth and other ingredients. My meal cost 5000won (about AU$5). 

Wondering around the Hanok village I spotted this tree. It is meant to be 500 or 600 years old (I don't remember the exact age)

And next to the Hanok village was the first catholic church in Korea. The church was built on the site where the first catholic missionaries were martyred. 

Back in Daejeon

This week I saw (and heard) a bird first the first time since arriving in Korea. I have seen plenty of whopping great big bird nests high in the tops of trees but I had not seen or heard any birds. I wonder if I will see more as the weather warms up.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

hi ho hi ho, off to Seoul I go

On the weekend I traveled from Daejeon to Seoul with Jihyeon to meet her friends in Gangnam. This might sound crazy considering North Korea (only a stones throw from Seoul) was making all kinds of threats this week but here in South Korea people just carry on with their daily lives as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. North Korean threats have become white noise to South Korean people which I know might sound crazy given the seriousness of the threats, but that is just the way it is. 

The latest threat came two days after the North Korean military announced it would rip up the 1953 armistice agreement ending the Korean War - a move that would theoretically pave the way for a resumption of hostilities. LINK

Anyway, we finally made it to Gangnam (after walking, catching the subway, catching a train, catching another subway and then changing subway lines). All up it took about 2.5 hours. I really wanted to have my photo taken in front of a sign at Gangnam station doing the famous crossed wrist dance that PSY does but Jihyeon was too embarrassed to indulge me. 

We headed to a Korean BBQ restaurant in Gangnam where we had Samgyeopsal. It was kind of expensive (for Korea) because Gangnam is an expensive area. It worked out to be about 20,000 won per person (about $20). As you can see in the picture, the meat and the side dishes was very good. More info on Samgyeopsal here.  

We then moved onto an Irish pub (which was quite expensive even by Australian standards). From memory a schooner was 8,000 won ($8). 

Needless to say, we didn't spend much time here even though we had our own private room. We quickly moved onto a more traditional Korean tavern.

Here we drank Makgeolli which is a Korean rice wine. It was originally quite popular with farmers but more recently it has become popular in cities among younger generations. Because the farmers were poor they would use the only container they had to carry the wine, a tea kettle. In the village the rice wine would be stored in a central storage area. After a hard day working in the field the farmers would take their kettle to the central storage area and fill it with rice wine to take home. They would then pour it into a small bowl to drink it. I wish we went straight to this place instead of the Irish pub first. The atmosphere was much better. 

We headed home about 10pm and got back to Daejeon about 1am. At Daejeon train station we decided to catch a taxi home. I thought I had been in some crazy taxi's before, but this guy took the cake. Speed signs? They are actually a maths test. Whatever the speed sign says.... you should do at least twice the speed. I am not kidding or exaggerating this. We were doing 110km/h through city streets. Indicating? When you are going that fast there is no need to indicate to let other cars know what you are doing. By the time they see you, you are already past them. Jihyeon told me it was called a Korean bullet taxi.....

Friday, March 8, 2013

My first week teaching English

I have survived my first week teaching English in a South Korean school. I had it pretty easy this week. I had no classes Monday and Tuesday because the school was still working out my teaching timetable and on Thursday all the students had to sit exams all day so all my classes were cancelled. On Wednesday (the first day that I actually had to teach) I had to go and set up a bank account in the afternoon so I missed those classes too. So far this week I have only had to teach 6 classes. All of that will change next week. I have a full schedule (22 classes) of grade 1, 2 and 3 middle school (grade 7, 8 and 9 in Australia) classes next week. 

Alien Registration Card (ARC)
This week I also applied for my Alien Registration Card. Two of my co-teachers took the afternoon off to sit with me for 3 hours at the immigration office in Daejeon. 3 hours later I had a piece of paper which says I have registered for an ARC. The ARC itself will arrive in about 2 weeks time. A couple of things to note about the ARC.
  1. It now costs 20,000 won to apply for an ARC (it used to be 10,000 won ~$10)
  2. It costs 4,000 won to have your ARC card posted to you
  3. It costs 1,000 won to get the piece of paper which says you have registered for an ARC. You can use this paper to open a bank account with some banks (not all banks will accept it)

English Class
My first class this week did not get off to a great start. Power Point was not installed correctly on the PC in the room I was assigned so I was thrown in the deep end for my first class. I bluffed my way through the first 15 minutes before I thought of running the slide show on my laptop and walking around the class with my laptop. My second class I had a working power point but I ploughed through my material way too fast and was left with 30 minutes and nothing to do. I got the balance right today. All my classes went amazingly well. I am really happy with how things went today. I don't think they could have gone much better. Fingers crossed I can keep it up for the rest of the year. 

I have worked hard this week to prepare my lesson plans for next week so I have the weekend free to travel to Seoul with my girlfriend and meet her friends. I am still a little sick (I have a cough) but I am feeling a lot better. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

EPIK Orientation Day 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8

This is the first update I have posted in almost a week. I had the bad luck of getting sick (really sick) last Sunday (Orientation Day 4) when we spent all day out in the cold at a Korean Folk Village. Anyway, I am feeling better now so I thought I would do a quick rundown on the past week. 

Korean Folk Village (Day 4)
Early one morning we jumped on a bus and were taken to a traditional Korean Folk Village about 2 hours away. 

The first thing we saw was some traditional dancing. I wish I could tell you more about it but I don't even know what it is called. 

Then we went to watch a guy in his 60's walk across a tight rope and do some kind of crazy things (see the second video below). I would have liked to take some longer video footage but my hands were freezing cold. 

Then (drawn by the sound of Gangnam Style blaring over some speakers) I stopped to watch some stunt men.

I then had a bit of free time so I wondered around the village and took some photos of the traditional houses.

North Korean traditional village building

South Korean traditional village building

South Korean traditional kitchen

Some crop fields in the village
In the afternoon we spent some time with a Korean culture master to learn to play a traditional game known as Jaegi, or better known to you and me as hacky sack. 

Korean Culture Master

Day 5 and 6
Nothing too exciting here. Just more lectures (all of which were very good). 

Lesson Demonstration and MOE meeting (Day 7)
We had to do a lesson demonstration in front of our home class and a guest lecturer in the morning. My demonstration went fairly well (considering I was still sick) and I got some good feedback from the lecturer. In the afternoon all the new Daejeon teachers met with the Daejeon MOE supervisors and we finally found out where we would be teaching. I think I am really lucky. I have been placed at a middle school in a good part of town.  

Meeting our co-teachers (Day 8)
We were peppered with "Official EPIK Announcements" from about 6:30am until I caught my bus at 9am with all the other Daejeon teachers. Once on the bus I was no longer EPIK's responsibility. The bus took us to an auditorium where there was another opening ceremony and we met our co-teachers. After the ceremony the two co-teachers that came to meet me drove me to my Apartment. The apartment is quite old but I am happy with it. It is almost right next to my school and only a 15 minute walk to the subway station. I have been too sick to explore the area yet but I have already spotted a Taekwondo and Hapkido club within a 2 minute walk of my apartment.