Sunday, 7 August 2016

Summer update

Hi friends, family, and everyone else.

Life since my last blog post has been full of challenges and discoveries.

June was the calm before the storm. Then, as the end of the first semester approached in July, the stress levels were palpable as students prepared to sit their final exams.

However, it was a quiet time for me. Due to the extra teaching and classes which focus on memorisation and rote learning of concepts, my classes, which focus on speaking and listening practice, were pushed aside, and I had more free time than usual. During this time, I studied more Korean, and completed some online teacher training. 

The extra time also allowed me to start up another teachers' class, this time at the elementary school. I enjoy the conversations and occasional hiking trip with the one teacher who attends the class, and it's great to spend more time at the elementary school.

When the last day of school arrived, the teachers were far more excited than the students about the end of semester. After a short wrap-up with the students, all of the teachers piled into a bus bound for the seaside city of Yeosu (which I also mentioned in my last update). We ate interesting seafood, including crabs and raw fish, took a cable car across the city, and visited an aquarium. By the time we were on the bus back home, several of the teachers were in a state of alcohol-induced cheer, and this prompted the bus to turn into a karaoke room, complete with flashing lights and TV. 

Following this, I had a few days off, which I spent tramping with a teacher from school. We slept in a shelter in Jirisan national park after a day of climbing, and then left early the next morning to summit Cheonwangbong (전왕봉), the highest peak on the South Korean mainland (at 1,915m). 

I spent the following week at school to teach a Summer English camp to a small group of high school students. Many of my students are going away for a few days during their holiday time, but really the teachers have more of a break than the students. Summer vacation just means 'free time to study,' especially for the final-year students, who are under enormous pressure to pass their university entrance exams. 

So I'm trying to make my camp as enjoyable and as varied as possible. Our theme is 'The Olympic Games,' and the students are divided into two teams for the camp - China and America (they were given the choice of any country). I'm teaching another week of the camp from tomorrow.

This last week, I splurged on an overseas trip to Japan. I had an awesome time. Before jetting out of the country, I spent an afternoon looking around Seoul, with a friend who lives there. 

After finding my way to central Tokyo, I met up with a friend (also an English teacher in Namwon), and we visited temples, parks and coffee shops/restaurants together. I was very pleasantly surprised by the politeness and quiet warmth of Japanese people, as well as the efficiency with which everything happens -

from buying a bottle of water, to crossing the at the lights (you'll have to go there to see what I mean). However, it was a relief to be back amongst the bustle of life in Korea: watching and hearing people singing, laughing on the subway, shouting... As overwhelming as Korea can be, coming back made me realise how familiar Korean life has become.

Following this introduction to Japan, I flew (I have superpowers) to Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu, to visit a good friend from school days back in NZ. We visited sites around the city and shared coffee and meals with other teachers and locals. Borrowing a car, we drove west to Nagasaki, where we stayed a night. We visited the peace memorial, which commemorates the tens of thousands of people killed from the atomic bomb dropped on the city on August the 9th, 1945. Another highlight was Iojima Island, which has great beaches, and great water for swimming, but strictly no camping (much to our disappointment). 

Unfortunately, I missed my flight back to Korea, so my departure from Japan was by ferry. Overall, Japan was heaps of fun, and an interesting experience. I also missed the last bus back to Namwon when I arrived back in Korea, so I called in on some friendly Kiwis in Gwangju to stay the night. The familiarity of spending time with Kiwis was really, really good.

A true Kiwi always mentions the weather, usually before anything else. But here it is as a final remark: too hot, too humid, too long. While I'm waiting for autumn, feel free to get in touch.

Happy Matariki! My students gave out some star cookies to the teachers to celebrate the Māori new year.

So many yolks!

Iojima island

Martyrs' memorial to the 26 Christian missionaries crucified here
New Zealand's sculpture at the Nagasaki peace park - a korowai symbolising peace and coming together. 'Anu anu te takurua, ngaora marire te koanga' - 'remember winter, spring's welcome consolation.'

Kumamoto castle. Severely damaged in the recent earthquake.


A sign on the subway in Tokyo - showing how to show various expressions. Japan likes uniformity.

Coffee gallery, Kumamoto. The best and freshest place for a brew.

Ueno park, Tokyo

Approaching thunderstorm, Tokyo.

Gyeongbukgung palace, Seoul.

A trip in June to Jeonju, with my Middle/High school teachers' class

Tramping in Jirisan n.p.

Pyeongyang naeng myeon (cold noodles from North Korea), Seoul

Wearing a hanbok (trad. Korean clothes) during my teachers' class trip to Jeonju

Tramping in Jirisan n.p.

Tramping in Jirisan n.p.

Lunch before the start of the tramp!

Floods during monsoon season in Namwon


Bushbashing up a random peak in Jirisan n.p.

Teachers' trip to Yeosu

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