The adventures of Cam

Hello and welcome to a world where funny, crazy and unexpected things happen... after a hard year getting my Masters Degree and having a crazy Summer in London, I decided to go and work for the South Korean government on several teaching projects (Comm Design & English) for a private design middle school
and design university... my new adventure has begun!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I love school...

.....Autumn is slowly setting in as the leaves are starting to fall and the evening temperature is dropping-but its still t-shirt whether, haha!

I finally decided to head down to Yongsan to get my very first SLR camera and boy was I spoiled for choice! I ended up getting the Canon 350D (kiss x2), decided to upgrade the lens to a 28-90mm zoom, got 4gig memory card (over 1000 pics), bag, and lcd cover...all for the bargain price of 800K.
The next day Wednesday was the final day of mid-term exams so all my students wanted to let me know how they did and like most people, were glad the exams were over!

I wasn't sure why the girls cover their mouths but was later informed by one student that it makes them look've got me?! And to let you all know... tasteless school dinner's is a global issue-NOT GOOD!
So im liking the Korean school environment a lot! First there's the uniforms, which are much better in terms of design, than their british counterpart....and they have the students name written on it, which helps as a lot of them look similar to my untrained eyes. Secondly, I like that everyone wears slippers inside as not to dirty the floors...its just common sense, love it.

Nothing else has changed though.....oh, this weekend is a national holiday (Chuseok), its the korean 'Thanks Giving'. So school is closed on Friday. Just have to teach 5 classes this week...easy peasy! So i took my camera out and took some snaps of the campus, my desk and my classroom.

Things are pretty relaxing here as the school is located halfway up/down a mountain...erm no thats not an exaggeration!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

No, im still alive!

So I haven't updated my blog in a while, so what have I been up to recently? Well i watched this random documentary that would make any American worried! Actually, just watch it and feel free to make up your mind-it something that effects everyone, directly or indirectly....

I finally became a Korean citizen (albeit an ALIEN!) which meant I could get my cell phone activated, my korean friend Choona gave me her old one so only cost me 10K to get it done.....actually now would be a good time to explain the currency whatever it is in 'K' you only consider the digits before the comma to convert to dollars.....and you would just divide by 2 to get british pounds;

e.g 10,000 (10K) = $10 or £5. 1,000 (1K) = $1 or 50pence. A million (1M) = $1,000 or £500......ok i think you get it! Oh and the currency here is WON.

This brings me to my next point. Seoul is one of the cleanest and efficient cities I’ve ever seen. So far everything from the subway system to the hospital and even the airport is first class all the way. I’m a freak when it comes to organization and efficiency and this country has quickly won me over. With a few exceptions:

1) Currency

This picture really doesn’t do it justice. Its 545,000 won, which is only $550 or £270. This is an obscene amount of bills that is close to 2 inches thick!!!!

I could go on and on about the huge number as nothing here costs less than 500 won, which is less than 25p (50 cents), but my biggest issue is the denomination of the bills. The largest bill that they print is 10,000 won (the green one on the left) which works out to less than £5 ($10). Can you imagine carrying nothing but £5, £2 & 50p ($10, $5 and $1) bills and a shitload of change on top of that! It’s pretty ridiculous. I HATE change. Actually, hate isn’t a strong enough word. Now, I’m being given coins worth 50, 10, 5 and 1 won or what would work out to less than £0.025 & £0.005 , half a pence and a twentieth of a penny. Fantastic.

I’ve been living here for just over a month now so I feel more than qualified to comment and criticise a monetary system that’s been around for hundreds of years. 2 suggestions. Drop the 3 zeroes and print some 20’s and 100’s (they have recently produced 50's-although these are not accepted nor given by ATM's).

2) Age

I still can’t understand the logic behind this one. Here’s how it works. When you’re born, you’re already 1 and even though everyone acknowledges their actual birthdate every year, you don’t actually turn 2 until the Lunar New Year which typically falls around the end of January. Therefore, if you’re born in mid-January you would be considered 2 years old before you’re actually 2 weeks old. So when a child tells you they are 6 years old, all you know is that they are in fact between 4-5 years old. Makes sense.

My youngest class is made up entirely of “14-year olds", but some of them might actually be 12! Wouldn’t it be helpful for the teacher to know from a development standpoint which children may not be as advanced as others? Especially at such a young age?

Maybe there’s a rational explanation for this system but I’ve yet to hear one.

3) No street names

This one kills me. No street signs. All directions are given based on landmarks/buildings and addresses are based on blocks, districts and postal codes. My address at home is 507 Wizoom, Daehak Dong, Kwanak Gu But there’s a 113 on the outside of the building? I’ve been tempted to order a pizza but I have no idea how it’s ever going to get here.

I also read in one of the travel books I have that fax machines are popular amongst Koreans so that they fax over directions to each other so everyone knows where to go. I’ve had to ask some of the Korean teachers at my school for directions and unless they know the area and can describe landmarks, it’s a useless exercise. This place has more signs hanging everywhere than anywhere else I’ve been outside of Times Square. As for my excursion to my local Lotte? Yeah, well that could have been avoided with an address instead of a crappy map from their website. Would it kill them to name at least a few of the major streets and make everyone’s life a little easier?

So im off to the hip hop concert in Incheon but looks like we are about to get another day night of acid rain (the kind that destroys clothes!) If poison rain starts to fall, Im out of there.

Well I went to the Bboy world chapmpionships in Incheon (Fri-Sun), with a few was actually better than i expected, Japan won the group battle, and the hip hop concert on the Sunday was nice. Went out for dinner and a few drinks with my Korean-American friends.

So I learnt that you can buy your favorite drink and they will put it into a bag for you....yes drinking on the street is legal here!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Turning 26...

So im still in recovery from my busy weekend following my birthday (Friday 11th)....but have managed to get all of my lesson plans done (sort of!).

My birthday was something that all the kids and teachers knew about, as it was part of my introduction presentation for the whole of last week..... add to the fact that it was announced over the school radio (something I have to show you in a later post-but basically at my school, all the classrooms have audio visual so that the principal can address everyone in the morning, or when a new foreign guy has to say hello and make a speech to the entire school! Some rooms even have video camera's so that parents can go online and check their child is in class, so im a little reluctant to consider throwing anyone out atm.... in Korea, mums rule when it comes to school!) going off topic here, but it just reminded me of how the teachers all walk around with MASSIVE canes for hitting the kids.....some teachers hit the kids during my class, but not really that hard-or so i thought until last week when I was walking past the maths room and saw this kid get a total smackdown...BOOM! The maths teacher is this huge guy and im pretty sure he is unaware of how strong he is! But hey-all I can do is watch & keep my mouth shut!

Sorry, where was I..... so Friday comes and im looking forward to it. 2 of my favorite students (yes, I have favorites!) Jenny & Sunny (2nd graders) had bought me a card and present, these girls are sweet and they always ask if im okay and bring me a glass of water before class and offer me food. Then as the day went on, more and more students were bringing me gifts and cards....i was truely humbled (I will post a few letters soon). I had 2 marriage proposals and lots of 'happy birthday' songs.

Even the mute spoke! Sorry, the mute.....well there's this girl that works in the office and her job is to help teachers, u know, do the photocopying etc....i thought she was a bad student being made to do chores at first but last week she started waving at me, but never speaks.....ok, she can't speak english, but I never hear her speak Korean either! So the Friday of my birthday we ended up walking to school together....she just smiled a lot and kept hitting my arm playfully...but no speaking! So today, I decided to write everything down on paper......"can you photocopy these" she took the paper to read and proceeded to write on the paper "how much do you want Cam, I can do it in 10mins, iv just got a meeting to go to.....happy birthday! By the way, my name is Young Ran, i'm 22 years old and was wondering if you can teach me english?" I kid you not, her writing is PERFECT, but because the Korean education system requires students to read and write from the age of 3, and not speaking or listening until high school and university....we can only communicate on paper! I find this bizzarly satisfying!

So back to my birthday weekend.....several love letters later, I was suprised to find Jennifer at my school waiting to drive me to the indoor theme park at Lotte World, got there around 6pm, but it closes at 11pm so had a relaxing was actually better than i thought-it also has an ice rink and shooting range.

It might be ideal to point out at somewhere between orientation and my birthday, I lost my camera so sorry for the lack of pictures....will edit later! So at around 11pm, we went to meet 3 of our Korean friends at a nice bar in Guro Digital Complex....didnt realise Ji Sun had got me a cake and the entire bar was cheering for me after the music was cued! They got me drunk on Soju (anyone not tastes horrid, but gets u wasted!)....and that was the end of that night!
Today was my first time for trying out my new lessons, had to give some of those 16yr old boys a good talking to, play fighting in class is not taken lightly by myself....having said that, i dont want to send them to the home room teacher, because that's an automatic smackdown! And I had to confiscate a few items from girls today (binoculars and a mirror-which they will not see again until christmas!).

So thats enough for now....ooooh - i tried to check my balance on my UK account and the machine swallowed i pushed the button next to the cash machine (it was inside the bank), 10mins later, the bank security show up, turn the cash machine off, open it up from the back and give me my 9pm! SICK! If that happened to me back home, that would be pure hassle!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Preparing for school

Its been another great week here in Korea and have been shown some nice places to hang out. Monday to Wednesday consisted of me making an introductory lesson for the students, which I will execute this week. Thursday and Friday, I was at Siheung middle school for some mentoring with a Canadian teacher currently posted there. The kids are a little crazy here but all great fun to be around. The korean co-teachers were great, one of them (Jay) is hilarious and shares her homemade dishes with me in the office. The other (Soyoung) is bubbly and fun. I was curious as to why so many of the teachers were not married, as they are very pretty-but they soon educated me on the social calibre of a relationship in the eyes of a korean man and how social life here is based on hierarchy.

I taught the 3rd graders (16yr olds) on Friday.....after class a group of boys and girls came to me and said "teacher Cam, how long do I need to stay in the sun so I can have dark skin like yours?" After about a minute of laughing to myself, I kindly told them it was impossible, to which they were pretty dissapointed, haha!

Friday night, I went out partying with 10 korean friends at a karaoke bar (not the british type of settings....this is completely different!) which was cool, we were out celebrating one of the girls bday's, but only 2 of the girls spoke english, so they were designated translators for the night! The night ended up with all the guys breaking tiles to win prizes for the girls.....I was a little concerned I wouldn't be able to break them all in one hit, but surprised myself, and everyone else!

Saturday, was relaxing and had lunch at Jennifer's parents house before driving down to Isadong for drink (its the Notting Hill of Korea). We had tickets to go and watch the football game between South Korea and was a nice turnout in what was to be my first time visiting a football stadium EVER! Needless to say it was fun (although a little strange-it looks much more real on tv). We decided to head into Gangnam and then ended up finding a really cool restaurant/bar in Apgujeong.
So today me and Jennifer drove down to the COEX shopping centre to watch a movie and get some clothes (btw, the fashion out here is heaven for women, you can get the nicest high quality clothes for as little as £5, its crazy!). Tried to sort out my cell phone but need to get my registration card next week.....the phones out here are crazy-I have never seen phones this advanced, i think the iphone was the most advanced thing id seen in Europe, but out here....the phones would seriously blow your mind! now im finishing off my plan for the week and then its an early night (not liking the 6:30 wake-up slots).