My school- is a boys high school situated in Yongsan-gu, a “gu” centred around Seoul Station on a hill. The area is fairly poor- the streets are dirty, and old women sell their fruit and vegetables, as well as the occasional strung up haunch of meat or dried fish, on the pavements. My walk to school though is fairly nice- I can take a shortcut through the backstreets and at one point get to look out across morning-time Seoul and Namsam Tower. Once I get to school I’m forced to climb four staircases to get to my staffroom. The school has around 6 or 7 staffrooms, and lots and lots of teachers. Mine has four teachers in as well as me- Mr.Yi (or Lee), head of English, and three others who I forget the names of right now. All are making an effort to speak English to me which can be quite wearisome at times, but I do appreciate the effort and try and smile and respond as positively as possible. The other English teachers are spread out all over the school- there’s two Mr.Kims, one old, one young, a Mr.Kwan, a Ms.Im and a Ms.Kang, and another Mr.Lee. I should add at this point that 50% of Koreans have one of three surnames- Kim, Lee and Park- which can make learning teachers names quite confusing, especially when you refer to Mr.Lee and need to spend the next few minutes working out exactly which Mr.Lee you’re talking about. Anyway, the teachers have all been great- I’m the first foreigner at the school ever in its 55 year history, and everyone (except maybe the vice-principal) seems overcome with joy that I’m here. This is in stark contrast to Japan where there was always an unspoken expectation that I should learn Japanese as quickly as possible. Actually one of the coolest teachers I’ve met so far is a Mr.Park who teachers Japanese- he can’t speak English, I can’t speak Korean, but we can converse almost fluently in Japanese, much to the amazement (and sometimes wariness) of other teachers. He’s a big Kyojin (Yomiuri Giants) fan, and with the close-season approaching and Kyojin and Hanshin neck and neck, we’re gonna get together to watch some of the big games live in the next few weeks.
The students at the school are way, way better than at Shonan- they can understand almost everything I say, and while they’re reticent to speak I think there’s some great potential to do some fun and interesting activities that were simply beyond the ability level of the Shonan students. I would definitely prefer a mixed school than an all-boys school, but its not the smelly, testosterone-filled, noisy place I was fearing. I have 22 lessons a week- 5 2nd grade, 15 1st grade and 2 teacher classes- which is over twice as many lessons as in Japan. Yet despite this, I’m actually quite pleased as it feels like a real job, which to be honest working at Shonan didn’t. I have schedules, meetings and (unfortunately) an obligation to join some after-school classes (with overtime pay) at some point in the future.
Korean food has been one of the disappointments of my time in Seoul so far. Everything is either a) fried meat b) meat and vegetables in a spicy, bland red sauce or c) cabbage in…wait for it…a spicy, bland red sauce. In fact the culinary troughs have been so low that I’ve resorted to Ketucky Fried Chicken on no less than three separate occasions so far. To make matters worse, Seoul is full of quasi-Japanese restaurants that serve worse versions of Japanese food- tonkotsu as “donkotsu”, sushi that’s halfway between the utopian Japanese version and the depths of Selfridges Yo!Sushi in Birmingham, and ramen called “ramyen” that, oh yes, comes in a spicy, bland red sauce. Compared to Japan- land of so much glorious, glorious, food- this has come as a real disappointment. I’ll have to search out the good spots- starting with a Turkish restaurant in Itaewon next week- and stick to those if I’m going to survive. That and cook a meal of my own every now and then.
I was going to write about what I’ve actually been doing, but over the Chuseok break I got really sick and spent a lot of time in bed…booo. On the bright side, my area is incredibly central. I can walk down the big hill I live on, past the assorted girly shops catering for the Sookmyung Womens Uni crowd, to SWU Metro station, or head further south five minutes and get to the wonderful Batting Centre and Namyeong Station. Alternatively, I can head up the hill toward Baemoon and then take a bus/walk down to Hyochang Park, a small but attractive park that’s used for exercise by the young and board games by the old. It’s a great place to wander round on a Sunday afternoon, and there’s a nice arty café called Madagascar just by it. But being on three subway stops- Namyeong, SWU and Hyochang Park- I can get to pretty much anywhere in central Seoul in 20 minutes/half an hour. This means I can eat out in Itaewon, shop in Myungdung, go to the gym in Namsam Station or go to free language classes by City Hall and still get home really early- or stay out really late- true city life, but surprisingly lucky considering many teachers are stuck in the outskirts, a good 30 or 40 minutes from central Seoul.
Ok that’s all for now. I’m reserving judgement on Korea as a place- or at least reserving written judgement- for now. Its good but its no Japan is the general feeling, but we’ll see once I get to know it better.
Before I finish though, a blog update wouldn’t be complete without a word on the disastrous summer Hanshin Tigers have had- decimated by the Olympics, they lost most of their early August games, and even the return of all our stars didn’t halt the slide thats left us within 3 games of the Yomiuri Giants. Friday to Sunday we have Kyojin (Giants) away, meaning we could be second- second!- by next week. Only a month remains and its definately all turned giri giri, or in English all gone tits up. We’ll see what happens…