Archive for November, 2010

If the western press over the last week is to be believed Korea has been teetering on the brink of war since the shelling of a South Korean island by North Korea last Tuesday. 

My viewpoint on the situation is very simplified, and somewhat naïve I’m sure.  It’s also largely influenced by my work with kids, and seeing how they interact!  From what I can see the two Koreas are acting like kids.  On the one side you have South Korea, that although not a big country, is plenty big enough that it could have held the, joint South Korea/USA, military drills (that according to the North are what prompted Tuesdays attack) somewhere that wasn’t just off the coast of North Korea.  Why would they hold them there if not to ruffle some feathers?  North Koreas response to the situation seemed very much like a kid spitting the dummy!  Like I said…over simplified!

While much has been made of the situation in the western media, there seems, in South Korea, to be very little concern, or at least, very little concern expressed to me by my Korean friends and co-workers.  Infact, when I asked one of my friends about it I actually knew more about what was going on than she did.  It seems that its just one of those things that happens here, and when it’s what you’ve grown up with it’s normal.

The conflict is so far removed from what my every day experience of living here is, so I wanted to share a little bit about the Korea that I see. 

On the day the joint military exercise started and the western world collectively held it’s breath, I ran.  I ran with a group of people who had little more than the finish line in mind……..

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I think Facebook is a brilliant invention.  As a traveler, with lots of brief shared experiences with lots of people, it allows you to to maintain a connection that would, in the pre-facebook world, have been lost.  Most of the time that connection probably isn’t more than shared photos, but sometimes it’s more, and when it is it’s great.

The Facebook connection meant that a couple of days sharing a cabin on a train crossing Russia and Mongolia resulted in dinner three years later in Bangkok.  A beer on the shore of Lake Baikal led to a beer in Siem Reap.  An overnight bus in Vietnam led to a guided tour of Wellington.  Drunken nights in Cambodia led to drunken nights in Australia, Ireland and London.   They also led to a New Zealander to travel around New Zealand with, and later a friend whos brains could be picked about life in Korea.  It seems that once the connection is there, though you may not stay in touch, you’ve always got people who’s experience and knowledge you can call on; and if you find yourselves in a foreign country in the same town again you’ll arrange to hook up.

I think the only time I don’t like this global communication connection is when it inspires feeling of restlessness in me.  At the moment I feel the most settled I have for a long time, my works OK, I’m part of a community, I’m loving the lifestyle I’m leading, and I’m living somewhere where everything is different enough that it keeps me on my toes, and fulfills my need to be somewhere “exotic”.  I don’t understand why then when I’ve just seen posts and pictures in my Facebook news feed that it set a real desire in me to hit the road again……..I thought I was starting to feel ready to look seriously at options for heading back to the UK in 18 months time.

I wonder where this ceaseless curiosity about the world, and what lies beyond what  I’ve already seen, comes from.  I’m starting to wonder if I have nomadic blood running through my veins….

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Enough Already!

This morning started with a full on blocked nose, and annoying as it was I preferred it to what I have now.  I now have a completely blocked nose that is running like a tap.

There’s only on thing for it – tonight is going to have to be a 김치 찌개 (Kimchi Chigae) night, and tomorrow, and the day after, until it finally clears!

I discovered early on that this delightful soupy stew comes packed with a hearty punch of chilli and is not for the faint hearted, or rather weak nosed.  If this doesn’t clear it, I fear nothing will!

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For about the last three weeks I’ve had kids coming into class noses streaming with snot and coughing all over the place, including in my face.  Seriously, in my face – ewww!  Needless to say they have now all had etiquette lessons about what to do when they cough!  

For about two of the last three weeks I’ve felt like my body has been fighting something, I thought I was going to escape it, but apparently not.  Since Sunday I’ve been getting progressively worse, it started with a sand paper throat, and today I’ve woken up with a seriously snotty nose.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will have worked its way through my system so that I’ll be better by the weekend, because the timing of it sucks.  

This Sunday is the penultimate half marathon of the season, and I have high hopes for it.  I’ve done more proper training in the run up to this race than any I’ve done before.  My fitness is the best it’s been in years, my weight is the least it’s been in the last year; everything was looking good for a personal best….and then I got this cold.      

It’s almost a year since my first half marathon (well other than the one I did back in 2000….but that doesn’t really count any more!) and it would be great to end the year on a high.  I’ve put in a lot of miles in the last year, running in Thailand, Cambodia, the UK and finally Korea, and if I’ve not always loved every mile (some have been really tough!), I’ve certainly loved the sense of achievement and the endorphins along the way. 

So, it’s time to max out on vitamin C and Lemsip Max cold and flu capsules, and keep the fingers crossed that I can breathe on Sunday.  If body isn’t quite better, hopefully the mental desire to hit a sub two hour race will carry me through….

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In my last week in Thailand I spent an amazing few days at the Elephant Karel in Ayutthaya, it truly was an amazing experience.  (Read about it here http://wp.me/pwmjt-8c )

I received an e-mail from them asking for help recently as they have found themselves flooded.  I had not idea how bad it was until I just flicked onto the website and saw the pictures.  It’s hard to believe that its the same place I went to.  The floor of the huts where we stayed are sitting on the water line – though they are in fact on stilts and when I was there were about 6feet in the air.


It’s not all bad news though.  I just got a second mail saying that one of the Elephants has just given birth to a baby girl.  At just a few hours old the baby walked 5 kilometers from the site of its birth back to the Karel.  Birth, life, survival……nature really is an amazing thing!


To help the Elephant Karel and support the amazing conservation work they do donations can be made here  http://www.elephantstay.com/

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Some days my job really frustrates me….today is one of those days!

My co-worker, who is also my friend, came into my classroom today following a staff meeting (which I’m never part of as it’s all in Korean) looking a little uncomfortable.  Turns out she had been asked by the boss to tell me that he thinks I use “games” too much in my classroom.  She said she tried explaining to him that it’s what I do to reinforce the knowledge, and make sure the kids know how to use the language, but apparently he was having none of it.

Aside from the fact that I think he’s just plain wrong, it really annoys me that he asked someone else to tell me.  OK, so his English isn’t great, but it’s good enough to be able to tell me that.  What I find even more annoying is that he’s never even seen one of my lessons.  If he’d sat in on one to see what I do, and how I use activities to check the kids understanding, and still though they were a waste of time, maybe then I would take onboard what he’s saying.  As it is though he has no idea what I do in the classroom….maybe if he did see once in a while he would have realised that I spent the first four months teaching the kids how to use English, rather than making them memorize scripts by drilling them into submission – which I’ve since learnt is what I’m meant to be doing!

It is a constant bug bear of mine that the thinking in Korean schools seems to be – drill the kids to death with language that they don’t know how to use in real life conversational situations, oh and don’t dare ever let them have fun in the classroom.  My frustration is then compounded by the fact that when I’ve looked at the drills the kids are given the English isn’t even correct, to the point where some of the sentences don’t even make any sense!  Grrrrrrrr!


Anyway, venting over, works nearly done for another day, off home soon to pull on the running shoes and take out the frustration on the pavement…

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