Friday, 25 June 2010

Korea - The first wedding

Hello everyone!

As usual, the World Cup was an important part of my week. Normally it doesn't affect my work too much - mainly because I don't do much anyway - but this week was a little bit different. The reason it was different was because Korea's final group game started at the sociable and sensible time of 3.30am. This means that the game finishes at 5.20am or so, rendering sleep afterwards a pointless affair. It was thus vitally important to get as much sleep as possible before the game.

Private teaching ruined me in this regard. I was teaching until 8.30, so got approximately 90 minutes of shuteye before hotfooting it to Bucheon on the last bus. Well that was the plan. Turns out I missed the last bus, so had to get a taxi. It wasn't the only time this week I was late...

I had been tempted by City Hall, but realised that I would struggle to get to school if I went, so stuck to Bucheon with Matt, Kelly et al. The atmosphere was thus a little quieter than the previous two games, but still pretty vibrant. We watched the game on large screens in a plaza-like area, accompanied by the wonderful combo of chicken and beer. We weren't hungry, but you generally do have to abide by the Korean custom of buying food in a bar. Unless you go to Garten Bier so often that they just give you the food...

Korea drew 2-2, and progressed to the second round. We did see the game, even though a drunk Korean woman kept on standing up for no reason. Even her husband was telling her to sit down, but she was having none of it, the free spirit. It was the first time in their history that they had done this outside of their homeland, so its fair to say that people were rather happy with this outcome. Big cheering, big hugs, lots of flag-waving. Normally these would be celebrations that would go on long into the night, but the sun had risen. I was teaching in a different town in three hours, on next-to-no sleep, and was drunk.

My thinking was that if I went to bed, I would sleep through my alarm, so I instead charmed the family with a drunken Skype call. I then showered, got myself ready for school, and had five minutes to kill, so went on the internet. It was 7.45. I leave at 7.50.

My phone makes a buzzing noise. A text. From Mr Kim. Asking where I am, and saying that the students are waiting for me. It's 8.35. RUBBISH!! I fell asleep whilst sat upright, that's a new one for me. Taxi to school, and I sprint into the class at around 8.50. Well, eventually. I did that Hollywood-style entrance where I overshot the door, so all the students saw was the door swing open wildly and then hear a skidding noise as I try to stop, before spinning round and charging in. With my Korea top on, and draped in my Korea flag. I was late, I was drunk, I was not in uniform - and I got a standing ovation. Brilliant. Helped that the co-teacher had popped to the toilet at that point. Especially as I had been joking with her that I wasn't going to show up. Smooth, you might say.

Wednesday wasn't a fun day, I was exhausted to the point where I slept on my desk for the afternoon. But then we did it all again on Wednesday night for England's win over Slovenia. In Garten Bier in Siheung this time, there was a big big group of us watching the game. So big, n fact, that the staff upgraded our free food to a FRUIT PLATTER!!! Arguably better than England's win, that. Celebrations of this narrow win over some European minnows (I can't disrespect Slovenia, actually - beautiful country, though the horse burger I had there was rank) were progressing nicely when someone suggested we go to a noraebang. No sooner had that been suggested, the owner of GB brought out two microphones, and proceeded to plug them into a small machine. We had turned a bar into a noraebang! Funnier still, there were a lot of Koreans still there drinking quietly. Only now they had to endure us singing numerous classics. Quite badly.

I got back at around 3.30am. I was woken by a phone call at 8.35. Oh dear, I'd done it again. I didn't rush this time, instead making it in for second lesson. I got a few knowing looks from the other English teachers, and quickly realised that I was pushing my luck and their generosity. Nice and early every day since!

Of the lessons I did get to, I was teaching my students about James Bond. I found out a few weeks ago that they know next to nothing about Bond, which disturbed me. What was also disturbing was the fact that I couldn't get my Bond film to work. Annoying, as my main activity was based on showing them some of Goldeneye. The activity that saved me was for the students to create their own gadget. My example was a gun that fired kimchi, which seemed to go down well. Some of them made good ones - one student unwittingly drew the protective ball used in The World Is Not Enough - and some of them made less realistic ones, such as the flying hat. That also has a laser attached to it. Good fun, though.

This lesson was also done on Friday, but frequently interrupted for various unorthodox reasons. In the afternoon my lessons were stopped so they could all watch a girl from school compete in the 100m at the Korean high school Games. One-and-a-half lessons, and all they showed was the MEN'S 100m and the girl's HIGH JUMP. Oh well. Earlier that morning I had to deal with another distraction. I was informed the day before that during one of my classes a cameraman would come in to take some photos for the school brochure. Fine, I thought. Oh, and because he's coming in, you have to teach in a different room. Bit irritating, but OK. Oh, and you can't hook up your laptop in that room, so all the technology you spent hours trying to work with the TV screens won't be available. Great. Big change of lesson plan. That is a camera by the way, not a yellow submarine. I think.

With ten minutes to go, the man arrives. I'm in the middle of showing the students some pictures in my powerpoint, so have the lights off. Our man waltzes up to me mid-piece and says something along the lines of, 'I'm sorry, but I need to take some pictures'. I need one minute, I say, as I have now just started giving the instructions for the gadget activity. What I did not expect was for the cameraman to then scurry across and turn all of the lights on. Not happy. Whilst still giving instructions, I casually walk across to the light switches and hit them all off. The man looks at me. I say, 'I said one minute'.

Once the activity is fully explained, he asks again for some shots, which I was more than happy to do. He must have taken about 9324568 photos, making us pose in awkward positions, and even taking a few of us outside. He told me to look like I am talking to the students, so I spent the outside photoshoot saying sorry to them for dragging them through this mess. They deserved candy.

Saturday was a long, long day. I went to Jeollabuk-do, 3 hours south of Siheung, with a few of my co-teachers to witness my first Korean wedding. One of the other English teachers, Lee Min-Yong, was getting married. I don't teach with her, but I know her and say hi if I see her, and I also wanted to see what a Korean wedding was like. There were about ten of us who ventured down. I was way down on sleep at this point, so spent a lot of the journey to and from the wedding trying to sleep.

I was told that it wasn't a particularly traditional Korean ceremony, and some things were the same. The bride wears a beautiful white dress, and is walked down the aisle by her father. They do the vows, the confetti and all that jazz. But there were some occurrences that I wasn't expecting. Eating food before the ceremony, for example. Though not that the bride could do this, as she was forced to sit like a waxwork model for over an hour while people stared and took photos. I managed to break her stony expression by saying hello, and she seemed happy and surprised that I had made the effort to come down.

The ceremony itself seemed very nice. Obviously I wasn't going to understand it, but most people seemed content to have a conversation while it was going on. Don't think that would happen in a church. The whole gig seemed quite informal, but I haven't been to a wedding in ages, so maybe this is how they work thesedays. 'Back in ma day' and all that. What you wouldn't get is a video of Korean students performing silly dance moves to Beyonce's 'Single Ladies'. That was hilarious. Soon after the group photos were done - aided by the brightest light ever - we were on our way back. I got to ride part of the way back (they stopped for food, of course - less than four hours after having a big lunch) with the vice-principal...and stayed awake for abut five minutes. Very comfortable car, he has.

No sooner had we arrived back in Siheung, I was soon on my way to my next port of call. Find out next time where that was!

Love you all

Matt

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Korea - The first game for Sorae FC

Hello everyone!

This week in school has been strange. Strange, and very dehydrating. I arrived into school at Monday lunchtime - after going to Seoul in the morning to do my visa for China - to be told that lunch wasn't being served. The other English teacher in my office tried to explain the reason for this, with mentionings of 'food poisoning' and 'contamination'. Miss Park then went to get her translator - this was going to be the proper explanation, I thought. She walks over, and shows me the screen. Interspersed amongst various hangul symbols, one word stands out. 'diarrhoea'. Lovely.

As a result, we actually had great food that week. I'm not going to hate on school lunches - I quite like them - but often the teachers from my office would bring homemade goodies to school for us all to share at lunchtime. Bibimbap was the food of choice on Thursday, for example. It was great because I got to see how normal Koreans made this food - and it is done in exactly the same way as things are in a restaurant. Tasted just as good as well!

The other options were food from external sources. On Wednesday we ordered in Chinese food - the Chinese teachers in my office were keen to point out that this is nothing like the food in actual China, but it was good. On Tuesday we went out for some wonderful shabu shabu, which always goes down a treat. Good food week.

This week - with the exception of Wednesday, when 'random exam day' reared its beautiful head and left me watching TV in school all day - I was doing a lesson on movies. I thought it would be one of the more interesting lessons I would do this term, so had been saving it for a time when they needed some sort of light relief. With summer exams just around the corner, the time seemed right.

I knew what to expect. A love-in for Johnny Depp was certainly one of them. I was teaching the phrase 'My favourite actors are...', and asked them to shout out the full sentence with two names. In one class, I heard this: 'My favourite actors are Johnny Depp and Johnny Depp'. Wonderful. Similar positive feelings were expressed towards Emma Watson - they can't say Hermione properly, which I found adorable - and Brad Pitt.

But there were other things I didn't expect. I was asking the students to name some film genres, and the standard answers were shouted out - action, fantasy, thriller and so on. But in the second class of the week one of the girls shouted out an answer that I couldn't understand. I ignored it, but she repeated it, and then more students started to shout it. It sounded like 'error', and they have said this before if I have made a mistake on the board, so I checked my boardwork. No errors there. So again it was ignored, and I asked for others. I got a few more answers, but the crescendo of this sound was getting louder. After discarding the idea that they were saying 'arrow', I looked for help from my co-teacher.

My co-teacher, Miss Ahn, was pretty much biting her finger to prevent herself from bursting out laughing. Now I was stumped. What is going on? Getting a little bit irritated, I asked for more genres, and this word kept on being shouted with enthusiasm. I again looked over at Miss Ahn, who composed herself, looked at me and said: 'Matt, they are saying erotic'. In Korean...ero. Riiiiiight. They are 17, I guess. But still, this caught me off guard, and threw me off my teaching. The students found it hysterical, and I did begin to get a bit hot under the collar. Just as the roars died down, one girl shouted: 'Matt, are you feeling hot?!' and they all started up again. It was very funny, if a little unexpected.

That spread around the school like wildfire - some of the teachers I went for shabu shabu with knew about it, and every subsequent class said erotic. It was a theme of the lesson. If anyone wrote down that their favourite genre was 'erotic', I would get them up to the front to say so in a full sentence. Loud. The best was Friday, with one of my favourite classes, 1-3. By this time erotic was being written in giant letters on the board, and I was asking them if they had seen erotic movies. One student said yes, and I decided to roll with it. This is our conversation.
Me: How many?
Student: Very many, teacher.
Me: Where? DVD room?
Student: No, no. Friend's house.
This would be normal, but it was the accompanying action that kicked this up a level. As he said this, he put his arm around the guy next to him. I looked at my co-teacher, smirked, and carried on.
Me: His house?
Student: Yes.
Me: Together?
Student: Oh-oh-nononono-NO!
Me: You - and you - watch erotic movie - same room?
Student: Aaaargh.
Oh, it gets better. He points to a third student in close proximity and says...
Student: He too, teacher!
Me: (struggling to contain myself) So you - you - you - together - same room - watch erotic movie.
Student: But...ugh...umm...
Me: So you are all gay?
Student: Aaaargh!
Me: Yeah, you all watch gay movie together.
There was no comeback for him, as every other student in the room was hurling abuse at the trio. Brilliant. The master reasserts his control over his young apprentices.

A lot of World Cup banter was going around the school as well. On Tuesday I strolled into 1-1 to pick up my prize for correctly predicting Korea's 2-0 crushing of Greece. 4 choco pies - wagon wheels but without the jam, essentially - was my reward, and I wrote down my prediction for Argentina. National fervour obviously got the better of me - 1-0 Korea, Park Chu-Young the scorer.

Even though it was on a Thursday evening, we all decided to hotfoot it to City Hall once more for the game. It was dry, which led to more people going. We arrived as early as we could, at around 6pm, to find the place packed. We pushed and squeezed our way through to the front of the mid-section, and then started cheering.

The anticipation began to rise - as you can see from the prediction in this picture, many people out here were genuinely convinced that they would win this. I was one of them. Propaganda works. The atmosphere was building...and then suddenly popped with one swift directive from security. Everybody had to sit down. What the %^$?!? We didn't do that on Saturday!! We were all forced to sit down to watch the game. It was a massive killjoy action. Even when sat down, I was told to stop waving my Korean flag above my head. Seriously annoyed about having to sit. Didn't do my knobbly knees any favours either.

People were still chanting and singing, though. Then the game started. And Argentina got the ball. And didn't give it back. Park Chu-Young scored to make it 1-0. My prediction! Well, not quite. He scored in the wrong goal. Idiot. Soon it was 2-0, and the man with the microphone's voice was getting increasingly fragile as he was having to scream louder to encourage people to chant. He was silent after Lee Chung-Yong scored for Korea, though. He had no need to raise people. We raised literally - it was beautiful to stand up. What was no so beautiful was the second half, which turned it into a 4-1 drubbing.

England played Algeria on the Friday night at 3.30am. Yet to do the late game on a school night, though I will have to next week. But this wasn't the only big game on Friday. Oh no. I was making my debut for Sorae FC. The teachers have a football team that plays other schools, and I was in. I even have my own shirt, with my surname in hangul on the back. It is a Chelsea kit though, so I feel dirty wearing it. We played a high school from Ansan. It was fun - the quality isn't the highest, which means I fit in nicely. They play me up front for some reason. They genuinely think I'm quite good. False hope, as we lost 5-3. I set up one - did the Heskey thing of being a non-threatening striker, though I set up the first. Though they now call me 'Sorae Messi'. I think they are way too nice for their own good. I am left-footed and foreign to them, but that's where comparisons end, I'm afraid.

It's what happens after these games that is more fun. Samgyupsal and soju. In giant doses. All of this made me rather drunk, and rather tired. I had to be alive for the England game! I met our Western group after the food in our World Cup watching venue, Garten Bier. I then did something that you simply cannot do in Britain - I took a nap. In a bar. On a Friday night. I curled up on the sofa and slept for an hour. You would be kicked out immediately in Britain, but not here. Garten Bier is great, they seem to like us. Because we are regulars, they bring us complimentary food. It started off as pineapple, then moved up to nachos that we don't really eat many of, but has recently been kicked up another level. They bring out a hotplate. On this hotplate sit four fried eggs. Fantastic.

I was awake for England-Algeria. GB shuts at 4am, so we watched it at someone's house. We decided to do a shot of soju for each corner. We sobered up. England were terrible. 6am return to bed, and a very quiet, chilled weekend was in store. Sorae Messi has to recover for his next game, obviously.

Love you all

Matt

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Korea - The first World Cup game

Hello everyone!

So the greatest sporting spectacle in the world is upon us. You can keep your Olympics - they're funny, but equestrian, modern pentathlon and judo are nowhere near as important as football. I missed most of the last Olmypics as I was in Prague. I didn't see Bolt's masterclass until I was back in Blighty. But I'm not missing the World Cup.

Actually it would be impossible to miss the World Cup in Korea. They're rather enamoured with the event. A bit too enamoured, perhaps. Every advert is linked to the Korean team. Every shop has some sort of World Cup decoration. And every lesson I did in the week leading up to the start of it was on the World Cup.

It is something that I could not do in Britain, but is very possible and enjoyable in Korea. I was a bit sceptical as to how much the all-girl classes would appreciate me nattering on for fifty minutes about football. I shouldn't have been. Obviously the boys' classes knew more of the players, but the girls were just as enthusiastic. And they all know the Korean players, which is what part of my lesson was based around. They also all remember 2002, and how good it was.

Videos, pictures and various other highjinks were part of my lesson, but I ended it with the best game I've played so far. World Cup top trumps!! It took me about five minutes to very carefully explain the rules - in particular that they cannot just flick through their cards until they find Brazil - but they loved it. And they all now know what a football ranking is. Mission accomplished.

Of course much of the excitement out here stems from the fact that Korea are in the tournament. Their first game, against Greece, was very winnable. I explained to my students that Greece were 'as bad as Wales', and Korea therefore should win. One of my classes, 1-1, do a 'toto'. This is a giant grid with the goals of Korea on one side and the goals of the opponent on the other, and you write your name in the box of your predicted score. I predicted 2-0 Korea, and marched on.

We are aiming to watch the vast majority of the games. The main obstacle to this dream stems from the time difference. Lunchtime games in South Africa are primetime games in Korea - primetime games in South Africa kick-off at 3.30am in Korea. That's difficult. We watched the first game, but missed France (not the worst decision we've made) as we had a masterplan for Saturday.

Saturday was going to be amazing, starting with a bungee jump. We travelled across Seoul, over two hours on the subway, to then find that the bungee place had closed for the day due to bad weather. I was busy making smart alec comments about how rain shouldn't affect a bungee jump - if you slip and fall off, you're doing exactly what you were going to do anyway - when someone mentioned possible lightning as a reason. Fair enough, then. Shame, as we were really pumped for it. To make us feel better, we hit up Irish coffee and a Full English in Itaewon for lunch. First Full English I've had out here, and it was nice, but I didn't really eat them enough at home to have a massive craving for one.

We hung around Itaewon for a while - the rain was really coming down at this point - and went to a couple of bars before opting to head over to Gwanghwamun. Very close to this place is Seoul City Hall, and outside City Hall was a giant screen for lots of people to watch Korea send Greece back to the Dark Ages (we hoped). Off we trot - in ridiculous rain now - getting to City Hall a little after 4.30, a mere four hours before kick-off.

It. Was. Rammed. Seriously, considering the rain and the time, I was stunned at the amount of people already there, as it was only going to become more crowded. We found the Bucheon crowd, and got about our business. My business was getting rid of my shoes and standing barefoot on the grass. Not grass anymore, more like mud. It really had a festival vibe to it.

We messed around for a bit, taking photos and posing for Koreans, before Jen introduced some masks of Korean players into our lives. I immediately took the Park Chu-Young (that's 박추용 to Koreans) face and attached it over my head. We then pretended to ruin their careers in tabloid stings for a bit, before an opportunity unwittingly fell into our lap.

We spied a television camera off to our side, with a man talking into it. From people jumping and waving behind, the strong suggestion was that this was a live broadcast. So on goes the mask, and this is what we did...

video

What a rebel, eh. Soon after some K-pop bands emerge to whip the crowd into a frenzy. The Korean fans are famous for being loud and passionate, and they didn't let us down here. We could join in as well, mainly on the grounds that they sing the same phrase for every song. 대한민국!!! Followed by five claps. Its on every advert, in every song, on the lips of every Korean. If only someone would patent it they would be a trillionaire...

The atmosphere was electric. It didn't have the organised feel that I was expected, more instead resembling a carnival or music festival. The weather aided that. I had been telling people that the rain would make it better, and it was becoming true. We were all having a blast. And that was before the game even started. Six minutes in...the place erupts. A splendid cacophony of noise. Korea are winning. The noise maintains its high level for the whole game. Korea win 2-0 - note my prediction from earlier - and everyone goes wild. Including me, it seems - in the later pictures I don't seem to have my shirt on. I would have taken more myself, but my camera got water in it and wouldn't work. Still, what an atmosphere, and what an experience.

We eventually headed back to Itaewon, where I had the hottest food I have had thus far in Korea. And it wasn't Korean. We went to a kebab shop, where the man asked me if I wanted spicy or mild. I made that scrunchy face I make when I'm appalled at the prospect of something - in this case a mild kebab. So he says 'super-spicy', and I oblige with a kind of 'bring it on' approach. Tom had one drop in his and he said his was very hot. I had three big spoonfuls in mine. It was nice, I did enjoy it, but it was SOOOOO hot. And boy did I pay for that for the next two days.

We had ventured back to Itaewon to watch the England game. I was sat on a table of Americans, so showed my stubborn side and backed England. It all started so well...but to be honest, Korea are my team in this World Cup, and they had gotten off to a flier. And what a way to experience it. One of the best experiences I will have this year, without a doubt. Fantastic fun in the rain.



Love you all

Matt

Korea - The first music gig

Hello everyone!

I haven't updated this in a while. I'm easily distracted by the World Cup. World Cup fever has become pretty intense, and I love it! Next week I am doing my lesson on the World Cup, which means I have spent quite a lot of time planning it. We have also been drumming up our enthusiasm to boiling point by watching many warm-up matches. Staying up until 3.30am to watch Spain beat Korea was an eye-opener as to how tired we will be in school for the next month. Totally worth it though.

On Saturday we had another big BBQ to do our World Cup sweepstakes draw. Each of the 16 people put in 10,000W and get two teams - one seeded and one unseeded. I am now cheering on Slovakia and Portugal in South Africa. 아싸! But of course Korea will still be my numero uno. I do live here after all.

Speaking of football, I played with some of the teachers last week. We played in searing heat on the Thursday after school. They seemed to appreciate the fact that I base my style of play on Robbie Savage - I run around a lot like a headless chicken. I scored a goal as well. The opposition keeper scuffed his kick from the edge of the box, and I simply launched it back over him first-time into the net. Getting called 'Beckham' for the next five minutes by the other teachers probably wasn't warranted. They are now trying to set up some matches against other schools, which would be great fun.

The real fun of this week came on Friday. Mike, the one other Westerner who lives in my apartment block, plays in a two-man band, and had his first gig in Hongdae that night. You may have got the impression from these blogs that Hongdae is just for crazy, mental drinking nights - it is, but there is so much more to it than that, and the music scene is a big part of it. He was playing at 11, so we all ventured into Seoul a little after 8pm. I was out with group of people I hadn't been on a big night out with before, so was pretty excited.

We saw some strange incidents involving dogs before the gig. When waiting for the first bus, Mike spotted a dog on the back of a pick-up truck. It looked like an ornament whilst the car was stationary at the lights, but all of a sudden it started to move around just as the truck started to move. How did he stay on the truck? His leash was tied to the back of the main part which housed the driver. Why the driver didn't have him inside I don't know. In Hongdae itself, we saw a dog who had been shaved, apart from the ends of his limbs and his mane. This is Emma stroking it - they're not kissing, even though it does look that way.

The ultimate destination was a place called Freebird, so after chilling in a bar nearby we headed in. Small, compact place that reminded me of the top floor in Welsh Club where we saw Get.Cape.Wear.Cape.Fly a while ago. At around 11.30, they began. Smoke began to plume from the front to build the atmosphere, and away we go. For about 20 seconds, before the other guy in the band, Matt (there are SO MANY Matt's out here!!), cut the music. There was a problem.

There was a problem for a long time. They kept trying and failing. Matt explained later it was something to do with the syncing. Eventually they used a different song, and got going. They were really good, especially as it was their first time. Sounded a bit like White Lies. Afterwards we did the usual of drinking much and getting back to Siheung at a preposterously early/late hour. Great fun, and good to see some live music.

My lesson this week has been on occupations. Pretty simple lesson which didn't involve too much planning, thus letting me prep for my World Cup masterpiece. Ahem. One of the pictures was of a police officer - the deal was that they would shout out the occupation - but one group spotted something strange about this particular cop. 'Teacher! Kim Jong-Il!!' There are elements of the Dear Leader prevalent in the picture, I have to agree. The next picture was of a surgeon. I joked that this was also Kim Jong-Il, which they found funny.

An event more concerning than this occurred in my private lesson, when one of the students explained to me - in English - how to make a petrol bomb. He may be one for the authorities to watch in the future. Still, he did do it in English, so I had to give him (small) kudos for that. On that BOMBshell - see what I did there - I'll wrap this up. Next one is the World Cup match - that is an epic tale.

Love you all

Matt

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Korea - The first trip to Itaewon

May 23-29

Hello everyone!

Back to earth with a bump after the delights of being a tourist in Japan. Back to the daily routine. Funny I should say that, as that's what I was teaching my kids this week. Things got a little confusing for everyone when I realised that my daily routine differs somewhat from the average Koreans. In a number of ways. It can be general things - they shower at night, whereas the standard Westerner will shower in the morning - or something more specific. They all hated it when I mentioned that I leave school at 4.30pm, and would ask them what time they leave.

Doing this lesson has really hammered home what a raw deal these kids get. The earliest anyone really finishes studying is 11pm. Some are in academies and private tuition classes until later still. And this is before they have to tackle the mounds of homework they get set from every lesson. Every one except mine, anyway. There's no way I could do that to them, my lesson isn't really important in the grand scheme of their education. It helps me stop moaning about being tired if I 'only' get six hours of sleep, whereas they often struggle through the day on four or five.

I threw it open to the class to make a daily routine from a Korean perspective, by asking them things they do everyday and drawing a giant spider diagram on the board. Some of them went for the obvious answers, but others were happy to volunteer more unorthodox answers. 'Teacher! I go poo-poo!' was actually quite a popular choice, and I guess technically true. Some answers, on the other hand, are either scandalous lies or just a bit concerning - 'I watch girls' being in the routine of one boy. I decided to go with this. 'Where?' I enquire. 'Oh teacher, everywhere'. 'How?' He couldn't make head or tail of that, so I helped him along. 'TV?' 'Aah yes'. 'Computer?' 'Yes'. 'Where else?' 'In school'. I had to stop at that point, mainly to save him from getting into serious trouble. Like having a sexual harassment charge nailed on him. Maybe I should teach the the word 'voyeur'.

I tried my utmost to keep it quiet this week because I had another half-marathon on the Saturday. I wasn't alone doing this one - over the course of a drunken conversation a month or so before, I had persuaded Jon to run with me. As I've mentioned before, it is getting hot out here, so the race was at 8am. It was at Yeouido, which is much closer than the previous one, but because of the time it was once again in my best interests to stay somewhere closer.

Naturally, the closer the better, so I headed to Yeouido straight from school. Yeouido is a very nice place, and a very classy place. This made finding a cheap, skanky motel very difficult. As in I didn't find one. It is home of the Trump Tower and the 63 Building, two reasonably famous landmarks in Seoul. Certainly two of the taller ones. Plan B, I hopped in a taxi and went to one of the nearby subway stations, Yeongdung-po.

This was more like the kind of area I wanted. Well, not wanted, but needed. It was rough, a bit dirty, and had back alleys galore. At the third time of trying, I found one for the acceptable price of 40,000W (the first was 51,000, and the second, maybe trying to one-up their rival, was a mere 50,000), and was soon asleep in my circular lovebed after my pre-race meal of my body weight in rice and a few donuts. All over the carbs.

Saturday morning rolls around. My first thought was that I had no energy. Obviously the carbs still hadn't been digested yet. But my legs didn't want to move. I got the feeling that this would not be fun, especially as it was a little bit warm already when I left my pad at 6.45am. I bumped into Jon and his friend, who I'm going to call Katie, in the subway station, and soon we were warming up. Everyone in our organised group was running as their nationality, which is why I had a Wales badge on. Poor effort compared to Jon's homemade England shirt, to be honest. We heard the marathon gun go off, so wandered over to get in line for the half.

We walk past the 5k line, past the 10k line...and into open space. Strange, that. I spot an Aussie in the 10k line and ask him where the half-marathon runners are. 'Kidding, mate? They've just gone!' I look up in horror to see the back end of what had been the half-marathon line passing under the start line. Good way to increase the heart rate, that. So soon we were off and running, and I was on my own after the first kilometre. To be expected really, as Jon had never run a race like this before, and was hoping for the 2 hour mark.

My legs still didn't want to work, so I took my mind off them by admiring the wonderful view. Another run alongside the glistening River Han. Looks so much better now than it did in winter, when much of it was frozen over. What helped the cause was that the sun was often hiding behind some light cloud, thus meaning we weren't exerting ourselves in the fierce heat of the rising sun.

Same as last time, we ran up one way and back down the same road but on the opposite side. I had been weaving through traffic - no other way as we were just about the last to start - and had counted that there were seventeen Westerners ahead of me. I thought that I would count the number of Westerners between me and Jon as I came back. One...two...wait a minute. That was Jon! Less than 200 metres behind me! How slow am I going!! I started grunting 'pain is weakness' to myself, as I seem to do when I am in a lot of pain from running, and accelerated.

At about 13km I was alongside a Korean man with a watch, so asked him our time. 1:06. I've had enough boring running sessions to know that I was on course for a PB at this point, and only a little outside the ambitious 1:45 target I had been gunning for before the first race a month previously. There was no big second wind this time, no inspiring track (Lifehouse did come on, but didn't have the same effect this time), and I was really struggling to keep moving when I got to 19km.

When I got to 20km I noticed two people with balloons pretty close in front of me. The people with balloons are the pacemakers, and these guys had their pacemaking time written in big numbers on their balloons. 1:45. CHARRRRRGE! I sprinted past them, and kept bombing on. And on. And there was the finish. I'd done it!

Incredibly, Jon finished minutes later. Top effort. My time was texted through to me later as 1:43:29. Delighted was an understatement. It was makkoli time. The group we were with do these events a lot, and stick around afterwards to celebrate. By sitting on ice blocks naked, amongst other things. And then drinking beer off the blocks. We stuck to the normal games, flip-cup and the like, and then soon left.

Two random things with this race. One: the man in the picture was a mentalist. He carried round loads of flags, which were undoubtedly heavier than I was at this point. Two: there were people still finishing when we left hours later. Incredible stuff.

We went to meet people in Seoul Grand Park. Does what it says on the tin, that place. Glorious sunshine at this point, which we enjoyed. Also saw a rabbit. Only this rabbit was on a leash. Ridiculous. Very cute, but one of the most bizarre things my eyes have ever laid eyes upon.

From there we went to get food in Itaewon. This is the foreigner district of Seoul - a lot of US soldiers spend their nights here. People found it strange that I had survived six months without wanting to go, but I guess I like Korean food that much and don't really get on well with American soldiers (New Year's). We headed to a Turkish restaurant. The one thing people say about Itaewon is the quality of the food. Mine was great - other people didn't fare as well. Jon, for example, who removed his food in the bar we went to next.

This bar is called the Wolfhound. Nice enough place, seemed like a standard British pub-cum-bar, a bit like O'Neills. In spite of this, I was seriously flagging under the lack of sleep, so ordered an Irish coffee. Wow. The strongest, most brilliant Irish coffee I've ever had. Three or four sips and I was back to normal - half the mug and I was bouncing in my seat. Amazing stuff.

Soon after, I was going to meet some friends nearby, so got my stuff together. Jon couldn't see his bag. I spotted one by the bar, next to a tall Western man. I ask him if I can see if this is my friend's bag. Sure, of course you can, he responds, though in a slightly odd tone. So I lean down, and then he grabs the bag. Then tells me it's his bag. And then swears at me. I would have undoubtedly got into an argument, but just at this juncture Jon found his bag, and my friends told me to drop it. Don't think I've been missing anything by not frequenting Itaewon.

So where was I going? Homo Hill. Yep. I had gone to see my friend Steph, and her friend Eric wanted to find a partner for the night. Not many gay districts in Seoul, so he didn't get the opportunity often. Some of the dancing I saw in the bar we went to, Soho, was insane. We didn't stay around for long, actually, instead ending up in other bars and laughing the night away.

I'm sure I'll be back to Itaewon, but it wasn't the best first impression of the place. I'd go back just for the Irish coffee, though. And besides, I'd just completed a half-marathon, nothing was going to sour my mood!

Love you all

Matt