Thursday, 25 February 2010

Korea - The first noraebang

Hello everyone!

So it wasn't just Tuesday that I had off. I managed to persuade Mr. Kim that, as all the students would have graduated, there was little point me trying to teach anything substantive to the students, and that it was in everyone's interests if they just watched films. He eventually agreed, and I subsequently had the rest of the week off. Still got the charm.

Wednesday night was my first experience of ddak galbi. It's not like the normal galbi. Firstly, you don't cook it yourself. Rather, it is brought out ready-cooked in a big hot plate which is put into the middle of the table, and then you share it around. The other big difference is the meat. It's chicken. It also has potatoes and lots of other vegetables in it. It reminded me of pasta bake, and it was ridiculously good. I think I've found my new favourite Korean food.

Thursday we made a plan to go down to Vontees for a few drinks, the main reason being to meet a new Westerner in Siheung, called Tom. Before that, however, I had a rendezvous. A while ago, when I couldn't find any English-speaking people in the area, I had responded to a facebook advert from a Korean guy called Taehoon, who wanted to do some sort of language exchange. It took a while, but last week he got back to me in an email, asking to meet up. It would be nice to have Korean friends as well as Western friends, and also I might pick up a bit more Korean, or at least enough to hold a basic conversation with someone, so I agreed, and we went to get some dinner.

We went to the bulgogi place I had been taken to on my first night in Siheung. Aah, memories of when I couldn't hold the metal chopsticks to save my life. Taehoon is a fascinating guy, who hadn't actually lived in Korea for the past two years. Most men do national service, but he got lucky and was instead chosen to do voluntary work. In Bangladesh. He said that although the population density was very high, he really enjoyed it out there, so I'm going to put it on my hitlist of countries to get to. He goes to university in Hongdae, but didn't strike me as much of a party animal. Still, nice person. We will probably meet up when he gets back from, of all the places, Thailand. He got there a day after I left. Oooooh spooky...

A couple of hours later I was down at Vontees. Tom had only flown in that day, and made the schoolboy error of falling asleep from midday until about 9pm. He was going to be up for a long time. We stuck to Vontees for a bit before someone suggested we visit a Korean institution - the noraebang.

Sounds exotic, but it's easily explained. 'bang' is basically Korean for 'room'. 'norae' is along the lines of 'music'. So 'music-room' - kareoke. Koreans LOVE this stuff, and I'm stunned that it took this long for me to be taken to one. There are noraebangs everywhere, even one at the bottom of my apartment complex. So, feeling rather merry, five of us went along to a noraebang opposite Vontees.

It's not like traditional British kareoke. The place resembles the booths they have in clubs like Tiger Tiger. You aren't singing in front of strangers (well Tom kinda was I guess, but you know what I mean), it is just you and your friends in a room. The volume of songs, in English, Korean and other languages, was frightening. As were some of our song choices. It's safe to say I will never again willingly duet on Barbie Girl by Aqua. Come on Barbie, let's go party. Other classics I took part in included It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones, Lou Bega's epic Mambo No. 5, and my personal favourite of the night...Rollin' by Limp Bizkit. Complete with steering wheel dance moves.

Noraebangs are great fun. The next day wasn't so hot. During the previous night I had made a bet that I would run 10k before I went to Thailand, which left me with this solitary hangover-filled day to achieve this optimistic goal. I told myself that I would sign up for the half-marathon if I could do it. It wasn't fun. I think I stopped sweating solely because my body ran out of water. Nonetheless, 52 minutes down the line, I had somehow completed 10,000 metres on a treadmill. Half-marathon is on April 25, and training will begin in earnest when I am back from Thailand. I made the rather sensible decision to pack that night, rather than wait for the morning.

So my next couple of blogs are going to have a twist. They won't have the word Korea in the title! The epic tales of Thailand are soon to be broadcast to the world...and there are some stories there. Believe the hype!

Love you all


Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Korea - The first trip to Suwon

Hello everyone!

It's been a while, but I have been on vacation. I'll try to remember what I did the week before I left for warmer climes, but no promises...

I finished on the Monday. Tuesday was graduation, so my services were not required. I had shown an interest in going to their graduation, but was reminded of how exciting my own graduation ceremony was. And that was in English. So I opted to make better use of my time.

I did this by going off on a day trip to Suwon. It's still on the subway network, but a lot further south. It is a city in its own right, and one with over a million people. Funny how cities within the Seoul metropolitan area are bigger than any cities I have ever lived in before. Bucheon has almost 1 million as well, and Siheung has over half a million. Yet no one in Korea knows where it is...

I got on a rickety bus down to Suwon, which only took about half an hour. I had researched a few sights that I wanted to check out. There was the Hwaseong fortress, which is the nearest UNESCO heritage site to Seoul. There was also the Suwon World Cup Stadium, which may help to fulfil a possible aim to see every Korean World Cup stadium whilst I'm here. You may think that's sad, but it will help me uncover most corners of the country. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But there was one attraction that was a must for me, as a supporter (and former employee) of Man Utd. Suwon is where Korea's most famous sporting son, Park Ji-Sung, was born and raised. The whole of Korea adores him, but they take it a stage further in his hometown. They named a road after him. No joke. I simply had to find this place.

The weather was putting a bit of a dampener on my mood, however. It was the first time in a long time that it had been warm enough to rain. And boy did it rain. If I hadn't been so captivated by the idea of Park Ji-Sung Road then I wouldn't have left my flat. Atrocious conditions that almost made me wish for yet more snow. Almost...

My first port of call was the World Cup Stadium, as I figured that was something I could see quite quickly in the downpour. I was hopeful that the rain would ease off, so that I could explore the fortress in a more aesthetically pleasing setting later on. As for the road...well, that was not going to be easy to find. It's in a suburban (if they have that out here) area of the city, and not exactly a tourist attraction or place of pilgrimage to Koreans. Maybe they would have given him a bigger road if they had won the World Cup.

So I get off a more local bus outside the Suwon stadium. It's quite big, around 45,000 in capacity. It looks odd as well, with bits sticking out in random places, but is initially impressive. Whether they ever fill the thing now is questionable, but Korea's best club side, the Suwon Samsung Bluewings, play there. I'll probably drag myself down to a game at some point. Especially as Stevo said you can take your own alcohol in. Game on.

I walk around the stadium, with the intention of finding a way to get in, be it legally or through other means. I don't condone trespassing and breaking and entering as activities, but I've done it before for football stadia in Europe (Zagreb comes to mind, but that time I feel I was putting my life at risk) and didn't get caught, so was hoping to keep this record intact.

The other reason I was looking for a way to sneak in was because I couldn't actually find an entrace. As I was walking around a small Korean boy walked past me with his mum, and turned around and waved. I waved back with a smile, and a huge grin lit up his face. Cute. Still no entrace, so I started trying to undo the gates and slide them apart. That was proof that I need to use the gym more. I then started asking people, and the third man pointed to the floor. Strange. He then pointed away from the stadium. I turned and saw a car park. On a lower level than the one I was stood on. I then looked back into the stadium, and realised that I was quite a way above pitch level. I have my moments, I know.

So I thank the man and head down onto the car park level, where sure enough there was an entrance to the stadium and a museum. I had to pay 1000W to get in. Note to British sports teams that charge a small fortune - that's 50p. I paid 50p to get into and look around a World Cup stadium. Unsurprisingly, as all other people in Korea were in work, I was the only person there. The woman at the desk, wanting to practice her English, took advantage of this to offer me a free tour, which I gladly accepted. Her English was pretty good, and she was cute as well, which always helps. She explained to me that the stadium was in the shape of a bird, which can be understood if you see it from the air, but certainly not if you're walking up to it.

Park doesn't just have a road in Suwon. Within the stadium's museum he has his own section. The Park-Ji-Sung corner. I did have a chuckle at that, particularly his framed and signed shirt from the 2008 Champions League final. Which he played no part in, and wasn't even on the bench for. They had lots of intruiging and strange things in the museum, such as North Korean 1966 memorabilia, and some grass (which now looks dead) from the 2002 final.

The stadium itself hosted 4 games in the 2002 World Cup, including Spain-Ireland and Brazil-Costa Rica. I had a brief look out on the pitch, before deciding that it may not be worth getting absolutely drenched in order to walk around. Maybe would have been more rewarding if I had managed to sneak in, but was still a nice stadium.

The rain was not relenting, so I headed back to the station to get some food before making a decision on the fortress. In the supermarket there were lots of food stalls, and I decided to sit down at one of them. I've been told that Koreans find it strange if people eat on their own in restaurants, but this doesn't extend to the food booths in supermarkets. The menu is in Hangul with no translation, so I do the logical thing and choose one by pointing and saying 'this please' in Korean. Maybe I should learn basic food stuff.

The woman I was gesticulating to knew one English phrase, which she then repeated to me. A lot. 'Very hot', she says. 'Very very hot'. I gobble up the hot stuff, so said 'bring it on' to her. Might teach that phrase to my kids at some point, as she had no clue, but she started making it for me.

It was noodles with beansprouts and chicken in the hot pepper paste they adore out here. Actually the kind of thing I cook when I'm hungry in the flat. But I make it with one difference. My noodles are hot. Their noodles were cold. As if they had been in a fridge. An odd taste sensation, that. It was reasonably hot, and the woman laughed when she saw me clearing my nose at one point. I gave her a bit of banter, telling her it was cold, but was only digging myself a bigger hole each time she walked to see a tissue on my nose. I still maintain that it wasn't actually that hot, but maybe my sinuses needed a clearout, and this was providing it.

I went to the bottom of the fortress' wall, and decided that the weather was too miserable. The picture is of one of the gates. It's a pretty big wall, about 6km, and a bit of an initial hike, so will do that another time. As well as find Park-Ji-Sung road. It's a nice enough city, but similar to Bucheon. Maybe better when it's not raining.

I'm trying to make these shorter so will write up the rest of that week later on.

Love you all


Friday, 12 February 2010

Korea - The first drinking contest

Hello everyone!

On Fridays I only have teacher classes. I haven't had to do one yet, which meant that I had nothing to do that day. With that in mind, Mr Kim told me that I didn't have to come in. Awesome. I cannot believe how much I can get away with. It's only until March though, at which point we move to a new office where other people are, so I will be noticed if the one white guy in school is not around.

I did a sprint in the gym and then met Ellen for lunch. As time was tight, I showered in the gym. All I'll say is that the stereotype about Korean men is true. They do stare at me as well. I think they're looking more at my tattoo than any other part of my anatomy, but I'm a strange foreign creature to them, and they may have stereotypes about Westerners that they wish to clarify, I don't know.

What my body probably didn't need after a gym visit was kimchi jjigae, a pretty hot soup with kimchi, some sort of meat or fish (this one was tuna), and other vegetables in it. It's very nice, and it cleans out your sinuses beyond belief. Really cheap as well, and filling, so I wasn't hungry for a while after. That feeling led to me making a mistake further down the line, with unsavoury consequences.

I went to Bucheon in the evening, to the all-you-can-drink-for-2500won place. We made the most of it, but as I hadn't eaten since the soup, I began to feel drunk. At this juncture I want to make a point. A lot of people who read these blogs claim that I spend a lot of time drinking, drunk, and hungover. This is true. But I feel that the stuff I do when I am out and happen to be drinking is more entertaining to write about, and to read about, than the nights in I have, when I watch films or read books or doss around on the internet. Yes? Also, it's not as if the heavy drinking is a change from my time at home, or in uni, or travelling around Europe. It comes with the territory.

Rant over. We moved on from said place to Sky bar, where me and Paul finally got some food. Chicken wings. Not a good base for alcohol. Sky bar's stage was being put to use, with lots of Koreans going up and doing silly stuff. Then all of a sudden the MC pointed at me and Colin. We had to go onto the stage. What were they going to do to us? We joined five young Korean men on the stage, where a small table had been placed.

We were chatting, doing photo shoots and whatnot, when seven beers were placed on the table. Aah, I can see where this is going. A downing contest. Colin tried to get ahead by slurping his beer whilst the instructions were bellowed out in Korean. All I understood was '3,2,1'. I then asked him if he was going to say that bit in Korean, as in 'se-gay, du-gay, hana'. He gave me an odd look, and carried on bellowing.

So 3-2-1-go. We didn't represent Britain all that well. I came a less-than-creditable 6th out of 7, beating...Colin. Well Wales beat England I guess, the only time that that happened on that weekend. Koreans are fiercely competitive, and this obviously extends to chugging beer. I've never been good at that particular sport, but I did at least finish, unlike some...

Still, Colin gained a lot from this night. He is a Newcastle fan, I am a Cardiff fan, and the two teams were playing later that night. We arranged a friendly wager. The team that wins by 1 goal, loser buys winner a drink. 2 goals, loser buys winner dinner. 3 or more goals also meant that the loser had to buy dinner. But not just any dinner. Remember that all-you-can-eat buffet I had on Christmas Day? Yeah, that. Dinner at d'Maris. As if that was going to happen anyway, we thought, so we chatted to the superior Korean drinkers for a while, and the night went on, you know the drill. Apart from this time I really didn't feel good. And didn't look good. I managed to mumble that I needed to go home, which was one of the wiser decisions I have made out here. The fact that everyone else seemed to agree suggested that it was also the right thing to do. Taxi, 15,000w, out of the door...well, you don't need to know the details here. I didn't think that calling this blog 'The first vomiting experience' would have set a nice tone. But it's been done now.

Probably because of this experience, I only slightly felt like death on Saturday. My mood was not helped by checking the football score to see if I had won myself a drink in the bet with Colin. Not quite. Cardiff lost 5-1. I owe Colin a d'Maris. Me and my stupid drunken bets. At least there is no streaking involved this time. But I was conscious, and able to move, so went to play football in Ansan. That was tough, my goodness. My legs were pretty stiff from the day before, and it was COLD. Lots of tackles flying about as well, leading to me cutting my knee and grazing my hip. I wasn't overly bothered, but the Korean players, possibly due to health paranoia, were shocked that I was carrying on. Felt like Terry Butcher. All I needed was a bandage.

One of these tackles hurt me more than I realised, however, and I didn't notice until I took off my trainers at the end of our session that my left sock was soaked in blood. Bizarre that, I hadn't felt anything. It may have been a stud, but also I think my toenail may have cut into another toe, and because I carried on playing the blood kept coming. Not to worry, though, no amputation needed.

After the games I went for a curry with Stevo, where I met the people he lives near. One of them, Dan, is Welsh. I'm pretty sure he's the first Welsh person I've met, how exciting for me. He found out I was Welsh, squinted at me (the BBC accent disguises my heritage) and then said something like, 'Dyw'in siarad Cymraeg?'. I knew that means 'Do you speak Welsh?' and, in spite of my A* at GCSE, I had to say 'nag ydw'. As anyone who has been through the Welsh education system knows, a GCSE in Welsh isn't especially hard to achieve. He has been in Korea for 6 years, which is incredible. The Korean woman probably has something to do with it. He also used to work in Siheung, and knew where the Pizza Hut was, which makes Dan a very rare species indeed.

The curry was really good. It was interesting that the Korean guy with us couldn't handle the food, saying it was too hot for him. I'd heard so much about Korean food being really hot and spicy before coming here, but a lot of what I have seen and eaten suggests that they just can't deal with it themselves. Still, I am a lover of all things hot and spicy. And Dan did ask for the curries to be as spicy as possible.

They offered for me to come back with them to watch the United game, but I had to decline, due to the all-day hangover, tiredness, and the fact that I had plans for Sunday. I met up with Kelly and her friend Phil. Phil teaches in Taiwan, and Kelly had recently gone to visit him, so Phil was returning the favour. Situations like this are good, as we get to do the tourist stuff which otherwise seems strange to do because, well, we live here. We gave him a very Korean experience.

We saw the changing of the guard at a temple. We walked past a guy in a Santa hat and hotpants with music playing out of his bag. He was going at pace, which is why the picture isn't so great. We watched a little girl stranded on one side of a stream because she was too scared to cross to the other side, until her bigger sister showed her how it was done. That was heroic, true sibling love. We wandered down Insadong. In the latter there was a machine which took your photo, and then you could write a message and send it as an email to anyone in the world. I sent it to my mum, but obviously the technology is a work in progress, as it still hasn't reached her yet. Shame, was a funny picture as well.

We also introduced Phil to mandu, in the same place that we had mandu on Boxing Day. Just before this we had stumbled across a group of Koreans in traditional dress with musical instruments. They were setting up, so we hung around for a while, and soon they began. Walking around in a circle, banging their drums, with one guy on the side playing something similar to a flute. It was enchanting and hypnotic, really cool. Big shout out to the guy with the funny hat, who kept flicking his neck to make a large ribbon twirl around. He was hilarious, walking up to kids and shaking his ribbon in their faces. Special guy.

We then moved onto a small palace near Insadong. Being under 26, it cost me a whopping 350w to enter. That's 15p. Believe the hype? It was pretty, but looked like every other palace/temple/old Korean building. But then an old Korean woman comes over and starts talking to us in very broken English. And starts to give us a tour. She was funny as well. At one point she was talking about the heating in the temple, and asked us all about how our homes in our home countries were heated. I tried to explain the concept of electronic radiators to her, and actually had a bit of difficulty. She laughed and said, 'that is good, but i do not think that these things existed 140 years ago. Remember this palace is not new'.
Korean tour guide woman 1-0 Matt. We made the mistake of asking her about kimchi. We didn't get another word into the conversation. Man, she loves her kimchi. She was very knowledgable, and it made our experience much better. She even offered to take a photo of us at the end.

It soon became pretty cold, so we headed across to Apgujeong. This, we were informed, was where all the Korean celebrities like to hang out, and it even has its own 'Rodeo Drive'. This picture is it. I have been to the one in Los Angeles, and they are a bit different. This struck me as being a bit like any Western high street. One other thing about this place is the reputation it holds. A lot of Koreans get work done on their bodies, their faces, just about anything really, and this is the place where it happens. Every poster in the subway exits was to do with some kind of cosmetic 'enhancement'. Fact alert: the most popular surgery is eyelid surgery.

Colin had met us at this point, and we walked around for a while before deciding that we were hungry. I wasn't particularly hungry, but after Friday, any chance to eat a meal needed to be grabbed with two hands and shoved into my mouth. We eventually settled on a small Mexican cafe. Mexican food in Korea. Fine Mexican food as well, a really good quesadilla. Their nearby toilets were a bit odd, as you can see from the ceiling. The mens and womens weren't seregated. I'm all for equality, but some things need to be gender-themed, or at least separated by some sort of door.

Pretty good weekend (well, until I found that my email account had been hacked), and even better news came my way on Monday. Mr Kim said that Tuesday was graduation, meaning that I had the day off! And that normal lessons were not happening on Thursday or Friday, so I didn't have to come in on those days either! I managed to persuade him that the students wouldn't bother paying attention on Wednesday either, and he agreed, so I also scored a day off on Wednesday as well. Needless to say this did not go down well with other foreign teachers when I started bragging about it over the world wide web. But if they were in my (strangely easy) position, I don't think they would complain, and if I was in their position, I would complain.

All of this meant that I only had two lessons to teach, during which I got them to tell me where to go on vacation in Korea and then showed an episode of the Simpsons. Not bad, this teaching gig. Not bad at all.

I'm going to wrap this up as I need to pack for Thailand!!!!!!! Assuming I don't do anything really stupid, I'll write up the rest of this eventful week when I return resembling a lobster. Sa-wat-dee, y'all!

Love you all


Korea - The first hike up Sorae Mountain

Hello everyone!

So on Sunday I did indeed get myself into gear and hike up Sorae mountain. It's really close to my flat, about a 10 minute walk to the bottom. Thinking it might be quite high, I wrapped up warm, and set off at around 2. I wanted to get back to watch Murray win in the tennis, and that started at 5.30, so was giving myself plenty of time.

I needn't have bothered. I don't know where they get off calling this thing a mountain, but it's rather small. Less than 300m, in fact. I know this because I was at the top in less than half an hour, and there is a stone which proclaims Sorae Mountain to be 299.4m. Couldn't they artificially build a little extra mound to make it 300, to make it seem like some sort of achievement? I was sweating, partly because of the speed that I scrambled up it, but also due to the unneccesary level of layers I had on. I think it was 5. I got to the top to see the view. I wasn't expecting much - Siheung isn't known for it's aesthetic beauty - but couldn't see much due to the haze. Gotta love that air quality.

Nevertheless, I started taking photos. That is, until a man grabbed my camera off me. It took me by surprise, so he swiped it quite easily. I turned around to see an older man holding the camera, and pointing to the 299.4m rock. He gestured again, and it became clear that he wanted to take a photo of me next to it for my camera. Amazing. He could have gone about suggesting this in a different way, but his not to try...

The mountain was quite muddy, so my clothes and trainers were becoming a bit dirty. At the bottom - having walked past a frozen stream, which looked pretty nice - they had a solution. Air jets. I don't know if this is just a Korean thing, or whether I am a bit naive, but they shoot powerful gusts of air at the mud to clear off the excess. It works as well, but is a bit strange.

So I got back for the tennis, made myself comfortable in my awesome new chair, and watched Murray lose the first two games. Whilst this was on I checked my facebook page, and noticed that a friend in Bucheon, Jackie, had left me a message saying that a few people were watching the match down in the Park, where a lot of my Friday nights terminate. Murray then broke to make it 1-2, and I thought to myself, 'why not?'. So I grabbed my coat and sprinted down the stairs to grab a taxi.

I didn't think I would miss much of the match. Then genius taxi driver gets on the expressway. Even on Sundays they have rush hour, and this was certainly it. The most expensive taxi ride thus far, and it took a loooong time. I got to the Park to find Jackie and a few others sitting front of a blank screen. Not cool. Something had gone wrong with the power. To find out that Federer was almost 2 sets up didn't aid my mood at that point.

After Murray somehow lost the tiebreak, and thus the match, we headed to RnB to play darts, pool etc. It was good fun, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people. One of them, Ryan, plays touch rugby in Bucheon on Sundays, which is something I might go for in the future. Whilst watching the tennis over the past few days an advert has been occasionally flashing up about a marathon in Seoul in late April, which will take precedence if I sign up for it.

I got back to Siheung before midnight, to avoid another expensive taxi ride, and then decided to stay up to watch the Man Utd-Arsenal game. Of course, the time difference means that I was up until after 3am watching it on a Russian-sounding internet stream. Not a clever move, given that normal school service was to resume in 5 hours, but worthwhile. It was also a good way to demonstrate to my students what we mean when someone is tired, and also when someone is delighted. See, all planned out. Ahem...

The lesson was lots of alternative answers to the question 'How are you?'. I have been getting a bit agitated with the same response, in the same tone, from each and every Korean. In class I was even able to see this by doing a Bruce Forsyth impression (of sorts); 'I say how are you, and you all say...' 'I AM FINE THANK YOU AND YOU?'. Putting a question mark at the end is also giving them more credit than they are due. If someone had died right in front of them, if they had just won the lottery, the answer would still be the same. This week I made it my mission to change this, and so far students are actually giving me different answers when I move around school. Though as I only teach first graders, the other students and indeed the teachers still use their one solitary line.

There were some funny moments this week. One of my classes know that I am a Man Utd sympathiser (I would back Cardiff if the two ever play, though), and wind me up by gesticulating how much they like Man City. I threaten to kick them out, which usually helps me win the banter battle, but it is all good fun. Maybe shouldn't have openly laughed at the students who said they were Arsenal fans though...

To show someone feeling angry I had a few different methods. One was to swipe expensive-looking translators off people's tables and leave the room for a reasonable length of time, then return and ask everyone whether the victim is happy, and also whether said person wants to punch me. They found that funny. Another method was to pull up a picture of the Hulk, and get them to describe what happens to him when he is angry. Of course, they had to identify who it was first, and one student got it badly wrong. 'Shrek!' he shouted. Oh dear. Lots of laughter, some of which was from me. I didn't see that coming. All this makes me wonder how I am employable, but then I remember that most of my co-teachers don't bother turning up to the lessons anymore like they're legally supposed to, so I can get away with a lot.

I don't really remember much happening this week. I got sent home early on Monday because I looked tired, which was amazing. Or my co-teacher just doesn't like me being around, who knows. Tuesday night I went down to Kelly's where she fed me cheese and broccoli soup - who'd have thought, it's actually really good - and we did more research and planning for Thailand. Aah, to see the sun, that will be nice. It's becoming slightly warmer right now, in that it is hovering on the 0'C mark. Almost T-shirt weather.

Friday was eventful, so I will leave that for the next post. It involves a drinking contest...

Love you all


Monday, 8 February 2010

Korea - The first game of cola pong

Hello everyone!

I haven't done this in a while! Feel out of practice. Anyway, this blog will cover January 21-30. I might do two and release them as a double-header...then again, knowing how long these things are, I don't think I want to inflict that on you. Here we go...

I forgot to post something on my last blog. Thursday 3 of winter camp: I got called a terrorist. What was my 'crime'? Well, we were doing a lesson on France. I bought a baguette, at great expense, to show the kids, but the bakery woman opted to slice it into approximately 56 slices, so it fell apart. Felt good to be giving them something vaguely healthy instead of sweets, though. I showed them all the tourist places in France, and got them to make a postcard saying where they had 'visited'. In the digital age, many may not remember what a postcard looks like, so let me remind you in simple terms. On one side is the writing. On the other side is a picture, or a collection of pictures. One student, Christina, was not keen to attack the artistic aspect of the work. I told her that she had to do it. Cue childish moaning (from her, not me), and me becoming a little bit sterner. "If you write about the Eiffel Tower, you have to draw the Eiffel Tower". Defeated, she gets back to work, and mutters 'terrorist-uh' under her breath. Well, I heard it.

I made her pay on Monday, by pulling up numerous pictures of Bin Laden onto the screen, pointing at him whilst asking 'terrorist, yes or no?', and then pointing at myself asking 'terrorist, yes or no?'. She got the point after the second picture, but I kept going and going. To be honest, I was actually impressed that she knew the word terrorist, if not its true meaning. Or maybe I am that horrible as a teacher...

Friday night was Lee's final night out, as he was flying back on the Monday. I had actually gone to bed early, tired from playing jeopardy with my students, and was not anticipating the drunken text which was along the lines of 'Garten Bier - now'. I arose from my slumber, and was soon catching up. I met more new people, including Stevo, a guy who I had heard much about but not previously met. Nice guy, and I soon found out that he played football on Saturdays. Now there is not much I miss about home, but playing/losing twice a week with Hajduk Spliff FC is something I definitely miss. He invited me along, and I was soon excited to kick a ball in anger.

Two problems soon became apparent. One was the travelling. Stevo lives in Ansan, which I didn't know how to get to, but they play near Hanyang University, which is even further away. Travel time - significant. The other problem was that, by this point, I was very very drunk, and not really listening to directions. Needless to say, I wasn't particularly excited about the prospect of running around when I woke up on Saturday. But new experiences is a key aspect to this adventure, so I hopped on the 1-1 bus and got down to Ansan. We then got a bus to Ansan station, the subway to Hangang, and a taxi to the 5-a-side pitch. The wrong pitch. But we did make it, and it was very enjoyable. It is mostly Western teachers, but there were a few Koreans playing as well. I always have to remind myself that a Korean might not understand me shouting 'I'm in support!' or 'Watch his run down the channel!', but I'm not the only one to make that mistake.

The hangover, the travelling, just about everything took a lot of energy out of me, so Sunday didn't happen. So onto my final week of winter camp. I decided to actually teach difficult material to my students for the first three days. We spent one day going through different American and British words, and another two days doing common expressions and slang, such as 'a piece of cake' and 'to get cold feet'. This was good for them to know, especially 'go nuts', but it was good for me as well, as I could use the eliciting techniques I learnt on my TEFL course without the pressure of 40 students staring at me with blank faces.

I decided to mix it up for the last two days. I had Friday down as a TV day for a long time, so wanted to go out with something special on the Thursday. I'd heard an idea from someone else out here of playing beer pong, but with coke. He said they loved it, so during the week I bought some table tennis balls, and then spent Thursday morning investing in cups and drinks. I didn't get to school until 1.30pm, so claimed I was being productive for my students. My co-teacher didn't mind. Touch wood, I seem to be able to get away with murder here.

I gave them a spelling test first, picking on my most intelligent students in order to make it fair. Christina, can you spell tree? Hannah, can you spell hippopotamus? A bit socialist, I know, but it kept them all in the game. They all got at least three pieces of candy, so it worked out nicely for them. Whilst we were playing, I started to set up the cola pong table, and was soon ready to call them over and instruct.

I play pong the fraternity way. The drink to be devoured is already in the cup. I have since been told that there is a sissy way of playing - you have water in the cup and the drink of choice on the side. I went through the rules, and then demonstrated. Well, I demonstrated that any skills I picked up in Connecticut have long gone. I rimmed it, and it hit the floor. Howls of derision from the students, all in unison. GERMS!!!! GERMS, TEACHER!!! GERMS!!! Oh dear. I'd forgotten the strong attitude towards any germ problems out here. Add to that the fact that the floor was filthy, and that the luminous orange ping pong ball now had grey dust all over it, and my heart sank. This will not work. There is no way I can persuade them to do this.

However, my degree was Politics and Modern History, so I called upon the powers of persuasion I learnt in Manchester (yes, I did learn something at uni), and persuaded the students that dipping the ball into boiling hot water after every go would kill the germs. Once they had overcome their admittedly quite rational fear - the floor was disgusting - we got playing, and they loved it. Well, they did until the other team scored, and they had to drink the Coke or Mountain Dew. I managed to persuade the two on the conceding team to play rock-paper-scissors, with the loser drinking it. In that respect, it got rather competitive. For the wrong reasons, perhaps, but any means to get to the desired end! As a disclaimer, I'd like to point out that they were all willing to play, and I didn't force feed anyone. I did have to tell them that if they got ill, that it was my fault, but so far that has had no consequences. So far...

Fuelled by this success, I went for dinner with April and Paul on Thursday night. I wasn't planning on drinking much, and certainly wasn't planning on touching soju. Paul, on the other hand, had just returned from Canada, so was planning on doing exactly this. He got his wish, and we got pretty drunk. I'm easily persuaded, that's common knowledge.

We ended up at WaBar in Bucheon. Paul's Korean girlfriend, Sun, came along as well, and she is a lovely girl, really good to talk to. She soon had to take Paul home, just at the moment we had ordered another pitcher. Friday was definitely going to be a TV day for my winter camp students. I got a phone number. From a Korean man. He gave me his business card. I took it, though wasn't overly enthusiastic about doing so. If Korean men give me cards it's because they want to chat in English about football, not because they want anything from me in a sexual way. At least that's what I'm going to tell myself. We eventually drank up and left the bar, only to be chased by the owner. We'd forgotten to pay. Yeah, we were quite drunk.

I showed up in looking, feeling, sounding and probably smelling disgusting on Friday, so two episodes of Scrubs were all that my students were getting out of me. Some of them gave me presents as a thank you for teaching them, which was very kind. But all I wanted to do was go to bed, where I pretty much stayed until Sunday. I couldn't stomach the thought of all that travelling for football, and was way too lazy to go to Hongdae, which I got a text for at 11pm. It was quite nice to take stock on Saturday, and I told myself that I would be productive on Sunday. In particular, I would climb Sorae Mountain. Find out how that went next time.

Love you all