Day 630 – KGB

nonameIt’s been nearly five weeks since my last post. From a teaching point of view, not a great deal worthy of note has occurred in that time, hence the lack of posts during April. We are teaching the same classes from the same text book as we did in 2012, so to discuss them here would be a fruitless endeavour.

The grade three students new to English this year are expectedly curious about me, the token foreigner in the building. One girl, Sung Yon, with her cute red glasses and her pigtails, and my old favourite Hee Yong who drew that delightful picture of me back in March, are particularly worthy of note as they frequent the library on a daily basis in an attempt to converse with me (with mixed results – sometimes I can ascertain what they are trying to tell me, other times I’m at a total loss).

Besides these two girls, and the posse of five second graders who sometimes visit the library around 3:30pm to play a card game called Old Maid (and who drive me crazy because they always argue and make a lot of noise, until one of them, So Yoon, starts the waterworks and Irene has to come dashing in to tell them off), the library these days is a ghost down bereft of life. The occasional student will visit to watch a dvd, but it doesn’t happen everyday.

Plus, Irene has taken to working in her classroom these days, leaving me in solitary confinement in the library. After a lifetime of bustling office roles with the banter between co-workers and the phones and the fax machines chirping away, sitting in the library all afternoon alone is an isolating experience.

In April the school held an English speaking contest for the students. The way this usually unfolds is that higher-level students who volunteer for the contest prepare a speech written in English, practice speaking it over and over again, and then finally reel it off in front of an audience (the other contestants) and the judges (my co-teachers and I) using a microphone.

For about an hour I felt like Simon Cowell. I was asked to score the students based on fluency, accuracy, attitude and content.

905770_10200434339034939_328304298_oThis year it was made even more comical by the sign advertising the contest, where, rather ironically, they mis-spelled the word ‘English’ as ‘Enlish’!

902727_10200448582031005_130246984_oOne week in April I was strolling through the Ulsan Arts and Culture Centre on a warm Saturday morning and I stumbled upon the annual Youth Music Contest, which felt like seeing a live version of K-POP star.

There were fifteen contestants, most of which were middle or high school students, and some of them were incredibly talented. I was taken aback by the standard of singing.

905793_10200448470268211_1325511051_oThe event also marked a momentus occasion for me. I met the first Korean guy taller than me! I’m 6 foot 2, which equates to 188 centimetres. This guy had an extra inch on me. We had to take a picture, naturally!

892682_10200315597346471_606024365_o

893764_10200315599266519_1313638557_oTo highlight once again how hi-tech Korea can be, I took a photo of this exercise bike in the park close to the Taehwa River. You can plug your phone into it and charge it up by pedaling! Genius.

921046_10200560800516397_1530623804_oI finally learned the purpose of these white flags, which are everywhere in Ulsan. They have blue green and yellow triangles on them, and they are there to remind the citizens about the routine military war drills that occur on the 15th of every month.

This is especially pertinent considering North Korea’s war rhetoric last month, which had the Western media in a frenzy. I was particularly interested to hear them officially warn all foreigners to leave South Korea in case of war. Hmmm. I’m sure Kim Jong Un has my best interests at heart.

Needless to say, I didn’t encounter a single South Korean who was the slightest bit concerned during that time. And if the locals aren’t getting worried, I won’t waste my time on it either. I even made a joke in the school cafeteria at lunchtime about my principal possibly being a North Korean spy (because he’s a very mysterious little man), and the whole table creased up in laughter. No tension here.

We’ve entered May and the Boston bombings took precedent in the news (and quite rightly so – that was a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the people of Boston). Things in the North have cooled down momentarily, it seems.

467099_10200560798996359_1785400199_o

922596_10200571535544766_168065113_oBut I might have other problems. I spotted this truck parked suspiciously the other day, lurking behind the trees. I saw the same truck again a few days later parked right outside my house. I think the KGB are onto me!

886112_10200315594586402_1725561101_oI also found this helpful sign on a trip to Ilsan Beach last month, showing me in which direction I should run like the devil is chasing me in the event of a tsunami. Very helpful.

It was 23 degrees today. Just like autumn, spring is very short in Korea. Winter and summer certainly have more dominance over the Gregorian calendar. Summer is already here it seems. I’ve stocked up on mosquito deterrents (namely a device that you plug in and which releases a chemical that kills the little bar stewards). Time to get my t-shirt suntan.

I’ve also booked my flight home to the UK on 20th August. So I have about 100 days in Korea. The posts will be sporadic in this concluding chapter of my Korean adventure, but any interesting happenings or trips worth talking about over the next and final three months will be reported here.

The low quality of the photos in this post are due to the fact that I used my LG smartphone as opposed to my digital camera.

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About michaelhollin

Originally from Leeds, England, I am now an English teacher in Ulsan, South Korea. I am a graduate of the University of Huddersfield’s Business School and The College of Law Chester. I self-published my novel A Cause for Concern in September 2010.
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