Day 1

So today I started work at the Kids Club, it was half hilarious, half awesome, half terrifying, half inspiring and half wierd – thats right, it was two and a half days of stuff all rolled into one.
I got in early (as one should on their first day) and got the grand tour before the kids arrived. There are 5 classrooms, a small kitchen, staff room and a play room.  They’re all named after fruit, but the layout is very similar to the West Wing – the classroom I’m in is in the middle of the others with windowed walls, so I’ve started calling it the Roosevelt Room (in my head, no point saying it out loud, nobody would understand).
  
The reaction from the kids when they arrived was quite funny.  Some of them ignored me, most of them just stared at me, and two were actually scared to the point of running away.  I started out observing but as the kids showed less and less fear throughout the day I got involved a bit more.
I can’t compete for their affections with Lochlan (my aforementioned aussie flatmate) yet – he plays the guitar for christs sake, but I did at least win over one kid who by the end of the day declared us ‘best friends’ and cried when I had to leave.  Another girl gave me a gift of 0.6 litres of sand, which I graciously accepted and snuck back into the sandpit when she wasn’t looking. When she found the empty container later she asked where it was – I simply replied that I had eaten it, and she looked at me in a very confused way, then burst out laughing and ran off to tell her friends.  So I fear from tomorrow I will be “the guy who eats sand”.
The ‘terrifying’ section of the day came when I went into the playroom at lunch, and found a load of kids using the climbing wall completely on their own, hanging about 7ft in the air with only the thinnest of thin crash mats beneath them.  I suppose its symptomatic of the constant health and safety bullshit we have to put up with in the UK (when I bought a new suitcase before I left, the old lady that sold it to me had to carry it down the stairs for me due to health and safety – true story), but I immediately panicked and had to go over and supervise to try to catch any of them if they fell – this resulted in more funny looks from the Korean teachers.
Lunch is an interesting affair – they have an on-site cleaner / cook, and all the kids eat in their classrooms with the teachers – obviously us being full-sized humans we get bigger helpings and can go back for seconds, which was excellent news as the food was good.
So the day ended well with the kids showing slightly less fear than in the morning, I’m hoping things will further improve tomorrow when the small small children aren’t ambushed by a 6’2″ westerner first thing in the morning.
The next activity in my exciting day was to go to the hospital for a medical – I have to do this to get my visa.  They want to know if I’ve been hooped up on goofballs recently, which is fair I suppose.  I’d object to it more if the medical process wasn’t quite so delightful.
First I got to the hospital, the foyer of which put most hotels in the UK to shame, then I had to fill in a medical questionnaire asking me if I’d ever taken drugs, ever had any heart problems etc etc, and it also had a psychological section which included the question “What is the current day, date and time?”, now this would have been very easy as the foyer had a huge digital clock in it, but the questionnaire was multiple choice, and my only options were “Yes” and “No”.
I spent a good five minutes wondering if this was just some bad english, or a really incisive and cunning psychological question.  In the end I drew my own tick-box and wrote “4pm, Monday 11th May”.
After I filled the form in and all the staff had a good chuckle at my passport photo, I was escorted by a really very attractive nurse up to the Medical Centre, where I had a hearing, eyesight and blood pressure test, all of which I passed with flying colours, then up to a lab place where I had to submit urine and blood samples.  The blood test was fine – there’s something inherantly manly about having a needle sticking out your arm and watching the blood spurt out when you tense – but the urine sample was slightly more difficult.  I had to pee into a paper cup that looked exactly like those that you get from water coolers, and the bathroom smelt like someone had died in it.  Looking back now I suppose they very well may have, it was a hospital after all.
Once I had my sample I gingerly carried it back to the lab area, and let me tell you nothing can undo 20 minutes of good nurse-flirting like handing her a cup of your own warm piss and making an awkward joke that she doesn’t even understand (“I’m sorry, we’re all out of ice.”).  So after that I left and came home.  I think I have to go back tomorrow to see if I’ve been taking drugs or not (fingers crossed I haven’t).

More stuff from today

After my glorious success shopping earlier, the day has just gone from good to awesome.  First we went bowling, which, being in Korea, was on the 7th floor of a high-rise, but awesome nonetheless.  All the balls have really quite tiny finger holes, making my only choice a hefty 15 pound-er, which reigned in my skillz somewhat, but I still scored over 100 so it wasn’t too bad.
Next, we wandered the streets for a while, took in a couple having a fight, a load of 2 Fast 2 Furious boy-racers whizzing up and down the main stretch, and generally enjoyed the weather.
Then it came time for dinner – my favourite time of the day.  We found a really quite nice little place (people always eat out here – eating at home is for chumps) literally 50 metres down the road, where I found out to my unending joy that most little Korean restaurants serve sushi rolls (called Kim-bup, Kim is the seaweed stuff it’s wrapped in, bup is rice – easy!), so I had 2, and let me tell you they were ace.  The best part?  They cost about 75p each, and came with kim-chi (pickled radish stuff that they serve with everything) and soup.
And as if that wasn’t enough, on the way back we found a shop that sells Snickers AND Twix bars!

Shopping

So today my all-too-kind Aussie flatmate took me to E-Mart, which is a big old supermarket that sells just about anything a human could ever want.  It’s a fair old walk there, and the entire way is lined with huge high-rise housing buildings, yet the streets are entirely deserted.  It’s Sunday, and there are more churches here than any one country should reasonably need (Our flat has churches on 3 sides).  They’re all probably at church, I thought.  Oh how wrong I was.  They were all worshipping a different god entirely.  I call that god EMarto.  
I’ve never seen chaos like it.  Children were crying, spilled products littered the floor, one woman was set on fire as she fought with an old man for the last camping stove. Meanwhile shop assistants forced free samples onto every shopper, often via some sort of cannon.  Through this orgy of violence I somehow managed to pick out a new pillow, a set of shelves and a laundry basket.  As we left the shop some hours later into the baking Korean heat, past an old lady receiving emergency medical attention, I realised I had forgotten quite a few things that I needed, but was unable to bring myself to re-enter the fray.
So now I’m home and I’ve had an ice-cold Cass beer to cool me down a bit, I’ve built my shelves and finally got my bedroom to some sort of normality.  Despite the horrors I witnessed at E-Mart (or The Somme as I’m now calling it), I’m feeling very relaxed and positive.  I start work tomorrow.

doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-DOO-DOO-DOO

Dahnahnahnah-nahnah!
I’m just relaxing after a long days walking around and failing to find all the stuff I wanted to buy, and I’m drinking a beer and watching a baseball game.  This beer is piss-weak and I just saw an advert for Gatorade on the TV.  I’m fairly sure the plane I got on arrived in Korea and not middle-america.
Even the team names on the Korean teams shirts are in english.  It’s almost like the US rented out baseball to the Koreans and put lots of rules in the contract so it remained exactly the same (although I think the diamond they play on is slightly smaller than the full-sized US one).
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had a long day walking around, I’m still a bit jetlagged and I needed to relax, or it could be the perfect synergy of weak beer, sweaty weather and a made-for-TV American sport but I’m really enjoying just sitting here.  So much so that I’ve dragged my laptop in here, away from it’s usualy perch on my windowsill (the only place I can get a wifi signal) to document the moment with my stupid words.
OH SHIT HOME-RUN!!!  That was awesome. The guy that hit it was sort of fat and unassuming too.  In baseball, you see, anybody can be a hero.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that Koreans seem to love clutter.  Every shop I went into in the market today had little trinkits everywhere, and everybody has those little mobile phone charms (most people have quite loud and obnoxious key tones too – even with my very limited knowledge of their language I recognised one guy’s key tones as a butch voice that just shouted the numbers, so as he keyed something into his phone, it responded by shouting the numbers at him).  One market stall I saw just appeared to be a pile of crap, which people were digging stuff they wanted out of and negotiating a price for. 
Another thing Koreans love?  Megaphones.  One food stall in the market today had a woman cooking squid and she just kept saying the same sentence over and over again into her headset (“Come and eat my squid!” or something similar, I assume), for what seemed like an eternity.  A supermarket I went it on the way home had a guy chopping vegetables, and he seemed really angry about something, because he was yelling into his little headset for the whole shop to hear while chopping his vegetables.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and look up the rules of baseball.

Observations

1. Koreans are very nice. I went out wandering around a market earlier to buy some stuff (I couldn’t find a new pillow upsettingly, I’m going out to have another look in a minute though), and they were all very cheerful, and the kids here seem to love to say hello to you in English, and love it even more if you say hello back.  

I wandered around for about an hour trying all the various delicious things they were cooking, bought some coathangers (which I needed), and used my three Korean words (Hello, thankyou and goodbye) a bunch, then on the way back on the bus learned a new one (“Do you go to….”), although they all pop in and out of my head with annoying frequency, so to any Koreans wanting to come and say hi to me, don’t expect a response because I’ll probably be having a brain fart.
2. Korean public transport is much more fun than British public transport.  I’ve already been on more buses here than I have in probably the last year in the UK.  It costs about 50p to go anywhere, and is just generally more interesting (nobody queues, so when the bus turns up it’s just a free-for-all).
Unfortunately we’re just outside the Tube here, so we have to get a bus down the road then jump on the tube if we want to go into Seoul city centre (which I haven’t done yet, maybe tomorrow).
3. It is hot here.  Apparently it’s unseasonably hot, but I like it.  I’ve had to take a break from wandering and come home for some lunch because I was overheating.  Unfortunately all we had to eat was spicy ramen noodles, so I’ve got quite a nice sweat on at the moment.  We have some of these weird fruit that are like orange-sized melons that are quite delicious, so I’ll cool off with one of them.
I’m going to go and continue my hunt for a pillow now.  Tata.

Hello I’m here

Had I kept typing when I was on the bus, the next couple of paragraphs would have looked something like this – 

“I think I just missed my stop.  I can’t really understand what the voice on the bus is saying, I’m fairly sure I heard it say Pyeongnae though.  The guy at the airport said it would take about 1hr40mins, and it’s been about that long.
…….
Yeah I definitely missed my stop, it’s been more than 2 hours now and we’ve gone about 8 stops and I was only supposed to go 5.  Should I ring the lady from my school whose number I have?  I’ll sit here and worry for a little bit and hope everything fixed itself.
…….
Oh FUCK we’re heading out into the fucking countryside!  I really need to ask the driver where to get off.  I’m going to end up in the middle of fucking nowhere!
…….
It’s alright, false alarm, I hadn’t missed my stop, the traffic was really bad so it just took longer than expected.  I’m now having dinner with some people from my school – it’s delicious.”
So now I’m in my flat (which is a very sweet little 2-bedroom place above a hairdressers in a little pink house) stealing my neighbours wifi.  The guy I’m living with is great – he’s been helping me out and teaching me a bit of Korean.  I need to find somewhere to buy a pillow though – the one they’ve given me is rock solid and quite small.  Although I was the most tired man in the world yesterday I didn’t sleep all that well (jetlag most likely), and at one point during the night the following conversation occurred in my brain – 
“Shit, I can’t believe we’re actually in Korea, this is mental”
Haha you’re so dumb, we’re not in Korea, and don’t you have to be up for work soon?”
“What?!”
Then I woke up suddenly only to be greeted by the reassuring glow of the advertisement hoardings outside my bedroom window, and I knew everything was A-OK.

Catch up

I’m currently in my flat in Korea, I’ve managed to hijack a neighbours wifi, so I’m gonna post everything I’ve written since I left home and haven’t had a chance to upload yet.

7/5/2009 – Goodbyes
I was quite looking forward to saying goodbye to everyone (not because I hate them), but because I’d never really had to say goodbyes on this scale before, and I wasn’t quite sure how I’d react, as my usually totally nonchalant brain is prone to sudden and shocking outbursts of emotion when dealing with things like this.  Luckily most of my goodbyes were said while very drunk, avoiding any embarassing show of humanity, I did get slightly torn up when I said my final goodbye to one of my very best friends (who was also the last person I said goodbye to other than my parents), although I’m fairly sure I saw him wiping away a tear as he walked off so the embarassment isn’t all mine.  
The real emotional H-bomb came when I said goodbye to my dogs.  One of them is terrified of luggage to begin with, so she hid from me for most of the day, and the other was blissfully ignorant and just wanted to play.  I think it’s because they can’t comprehend whats happening that I felt so bad.  I tried to explain it with hand signals and walkies-analogies but I think that just confused them further.
I’m looking into ways to make this blog more fun (if thats even possible), namely getting a Google Latitude map on here somewhere so you can all track me round Korea with the GPS on my phone.
8/5/09  Arrival
As I type this I’m on a bus (A very nice bus, at that) from the airport to Pyongnae.  The sun is shining and everything is wonderful.  My first impressions of Korea are holy hell does this country have it all sorted out.  Incheon airport is a cathedral to air travel.  Apparently it got voted best airport in the whole wide world last year, and I can see why.  Not only is it ruthlessly efficient with its customs and baggage handling (I went from the plane to the bus stop in less than 20 minutes), but it is actually a legitimately nice place to be.  It’s one giant purpose-built airport, not a decades-old modular rotbox like Heathrow.  There are waterfalls and wood panelled walls, it’s delightful.
The flight was quite good too – not too busy, no screaming children, and really REALLY nice food.  I had fillet steak for dinner just after we boarded, then spicey squid and rice for breakfast.  At least I think it was breakfast, flying towards the sunrise is a horrible experience – the night was about 4 hours long, then they woke us up and served a lunch at breakfast time.  Apparently Asiana Airlines won Airline of the Year last year, so I flew into the best airport in the world on the best airline in the world.  And now I’m on what I deem to be the best bus in the world (it has reclining seats!).
The way they were dealing with the whole Swine Flu thing was amazing too.  You filed through a quarantine desk, they took a temperature reading by sticking a thing in your ear, then later on at customs they had thermal cameras set up to catch anyone running a temperature. 
I think somehow magically I didn’t forget anything too, so basically this trip is 100% ace so far, and I haven’t even finished getting there yet.
Anyway I’m going to stop typing now because we’re heading into Seoul and I want to poke my head out the window and look around like a horrible tourist.

Dollar bills y’all

I thought I’d break down the costs I’ve incurred so far on my Korean adventure (without having actually arrived in Korea yet). I’m sure you could probably do it for half the price that I’ve paid, but if you want to go from work-a-day chump to “Oh hell I’m moving to Korea tomorrow”-guy in just under month, I don’t think this is at all unreasonable.

Criminal Background Check – £20
CRB Check notarisation – £20
CRB Apostille – £27 – Not including the price to my soul of visiting the desolate wastelands of Milton Keynes
University transcripts – £37.50
Two lots of passport photos – £8
2-day DHL shipping of documents to Korea – £60
Visa application / collection in London (including Train tickets) – £68
New suitcase – £70
Course of injections for various things (Hep A / Typhoid etc) – £120

So currently my total stands at £430.50, but a lot of those are needless expenses that are simply side-effects of me going through this whole process so quickly (things like train tickets for stuff that could otherwise have been done by post), and annoying things like needing a new suitcase. Also the Hepatitis injections aren’t strictly needed but I want to be on the safe side in case someone spits in my mouth.

But why?

I’ve been mulling over in my brain why exactly I decided to go and do this, and the only reason I can come up with (and I’m not entirely sure it’s a good enough one) is boredom. I fell into a very easy job after University, and although it seemed wonderful at first, it quickly got boring and I started hunting around for something new. Couple that with the fact that I’ve always wanted to work abroad, and a teaching job was the next logical step.

Don’t get me wrong, I love England – I honestly get quite annoyed whenever I hear people lamenting the UK going to “the dogs”, because, well, it isn’t – but I also love other countries, and I want to experience as many of them as possible while I don’t have anything keeping me here.

While I’m on the subject of “the dogs” and all that business, one thing, possibly the one thing I won’t miss about the UK? The Daily Mail and it’s readership. If something is ruining the UK, it’s that spiteful little paper and the horrid little people that read it.

Now, a lot of people have told me I’m “mad” to give up my nice secure job at the moment, because, haven’t I heard, there’s a recession on. To them I say, well, when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. One thing I dislike doing is coasting, and believe me I’ve been coasting for longer than I’m comfortable with.

So long for now, and enjoy the bacon.