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Published: March 19th 2011
I’d read a lot of stuff about Seoul
before I got here...
A bizarre city drowning in neon madness to the frenzied synthesized rhythms of Grandmother Techno
, with students belting out cheesy ballads in noraebang
(Korean karaoke joints)... “Questionable English”
rife... An energy drink called Coolpiss
… A fast-food chain often spelt Bugger King
... Public toilets "Out of Control"…
A country steeped in ancient tradition... A line of more than one hundred kings stretching back thousands of years... Buddhist temples... Shaman rituals... Confucian-style formal ceremonies...
The fascinating – but tragic – recent history of Korea... A country shattered and fractured by shocking violence in the Korean War
, a conflict that I must confess I knew little about, with it seemingly overshadowed by World War II and Vietnam...
An ultra modern, technology obsessed, forward-thinking and exciting country heading irreversibly forward at breakneck-speed...
Generally speaking I have tried not to have any expectations about places before I have got there but given that I have committed to teaching in Seoul for twelve months I'd be lying if I said I hadn't wandered at length how I would find it out here... And considering all of the above, it's
fair to say it's a lot to take in and get your head round!
But trying to get a handle on a different culture like this is of course frivolous. Consider what can be considered quintessentially British
... *rolling fields... tea and crumpets... the Royal Family... thinly veiled racism perhaps... student debt... a can of Special Brew maybe...*
Ah no, all you can do is "go with it"
and take everything as it comes. And given the whirlwind introduction to life in Seoul, there would have been no time for any real considerations anyway, with the first weekend passing in a frantic, slightly disorientating haze...
Arriving at the school late Friday afternoon, jet lagged after the long flight from London, and resisting the temptation to declare myself "anispeptic, frasmotic, even compunctuous to have caused such pericombobulations"
(Blackadder The Third, 1987) after arriving one week later than originally anticipated (due to the painfully slow Visa application process), I receive a warm and excited welcome from the teachers... I am given a quick tour of the school as the weeks classes draw to a close, being introduced to many of the students whose main response was to gorp at
me in wide eyed amazement with a incredulous look of bemusement at the incalculable height of the strange creature before them...
With barely time to catch my breath, its off to the restaurant next door, tucking into Galbi
- delicious marinated beef cut into strips with a pair of scissors and cooked on a grill at the centre of the table, served with a seemingly endless number of side dishes, including stir fried octopus!
A few hours later, the teachers help me move into my accommodation, a small somewhat characterless place in one of the many depressingly identical high-rises that stretch into a frankly bleak suburban skyline, each building only distinguishable from the next by the number painted on the side...
With a few days to put the flat together and explore my local area, the "first day at school"
soon arrives and I am thrown head-first into my teaching schedule, a quick fire blitzkrieg of classes ranging from kindergarten kids (who barely have a grasp of Korean, let alone English), to grade 3 nine year olds who are learning complex grammar structures...
I can already see after only two weeks that my experiences at the
school will probably range from the despairingly frustrating to richly rewarding and enjoyable, and everything in between. Some of the children I would already gladly adopt. Others I would have few complaints sending them out into the DMZ
There is no doubt that the Hagwons
certainly make you earn your money, and the amount of energy required to hold the kids attention over the course of the day is significant to say the least. But it's a great school and I think I have been very fortunate and "landed on my feet"
, given the occasional horror-stories I have heard about for-profit private language institutes...
And I think there is something to be said for the Korean's famous indomitable spirit and can-do attitude which is pretty refreshing given the quagmire that has consumed "Broken Britain"
- although that comes with the disclaimer that despite the huge emphasis on education and work, I wander if this must lead to stress and burnout that would put London to shame...
There is a lot of energy out here which contrasts strongly with the social decay and economic meltdown back home. In the four months I was back, the only people who
The Great Satan: Rastamouse
English has survived a fusion of languages and dialects over a thousand years - can it survive a fictional Jamacian mouse? YES
really appeared to have any passion were rampaging students smashing up Tory HQ
for increasing University tuition fees (fair enough) and, more bizarrely, intellectual racists savaging a sweet and charming children’s TV character - a crime fighting mouse hailing from Jamaica whose essential objective was just to "make a bad ting good"
Apparently this little menace was corrupting our children into speaking not good Inglish, with people actually posing the question "is Rastamouse a righteous rodent or rank stereotype?"
Others bemoaned the Jamaican corruption of our mother tongue and some even condemned the fact that Rastafarians were being portrayed as mice (as opposed to Meerkats
So, of all the crazy things that I have seen during my travels and the confounding and confusing aspects of Korean life that will no doubt present themselves to me, when I consider all this against people victimising a fictional mouse as a threat to the worlds most widely spoken language back in Merry Old England
, it's difficult to think of a country anywhere near as f*cking ridiculous as my own on reflection!
Bring on the stir fried Octopus, Grandmother Techno and Rastafarian inspired English classes!
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