Korea, Random Rambles
Comments 10

Tentacles in the Teachers’ Room

It was a splendid winter’s morning today…

..cold enough that my nose turned numb within seconds of leaving home, but clear and sunny, the ranks of slender white apartment blocks gleaming beneath the bluest of skies.

I was striding workwards, a journey I can do in 10 minutes of fast walking, but I give myself 30 to allow for coffee. I’ve been experimenting with the local brews, and the results have not been spectacular, but I live in hope.

Anyway, I suddenly realised I was happy, close to skipping-down-the-footpath happy, and the only explanation was the sky. I was the same in Switzerland. A grey or windy midwinter’s day and my spirits would ice up, but sunshine and somewhere to walk: heaven.

Today I tried a Family Mart convenience store. The coffee was average but it cost me about $1.20 so they’ll be seeing me again. I got to school. Even its bleak facade (I’ve blotted out its name) couldn’t take the edge off my mood.

These shots are from yesterday — it was sunny but an icy wind cut right through my fleece and jeans:

Actually, it’s not that bad, is it? Similar to those I saw in Japan. But they certainly don’t have much of that stuff we have back home called “grass”, do they?

This shot shows the ubiquitous wooded hills that poke up between the apartment buildings in every direction:

I donned my slippers (the custom even in schools here) and resumed my place in the staff room — right down the end. It’s been a weird week: I have almost no idea what I’m meant to be doing. And I arrived just as the school emptied for winter vacation. So I’m left to myself to “plan” for classes of students I won’t meet for at least a month, within a system nobody seems able or willing to explain. But at least the staff are nice.

Staff? On winter vacation? Well, yes. I don’t know what they do all day, but there’s an awful lot of tea-drinking, standing around giggling and working through a giant box of mandarins someone brought back from Jeju Island. And there are students there as well. Some of them are doing extra classes, and some of them are “volunteering. They can’t move up to the next tier till they do their volunteering component. So students kept coming in with brooms. That floor has been volunteered spotless.

I freaking hate lesson prep. And my Korean colleagues are lovely, lovely people, but they do like to distract me, with the incessant delivery of Jeju mandarins, enquiries about my tolerance of the arctic cold in my apartment (all dissipated since I found the button that heats the floor) — and of course the Korean lessons I’m frequently subjected to.

This was my desk today after Mrs Kim (yes, her real name, but good luck tracking her down), the vice-principal, who has decent English and a splendidly hearty Ha-ha-ha! laugh, had inflicted an impromptu lesson in hangul, the Korean alphabet, upon my unsuspecting self:

Koreans are famously proud of hangul — Mrs Kim’s lesson began with the words “Have you heard of our King Sejong the Great?” and the thing is, I actually have — I’ve taught thousands of Koreans in my time. It was a swift but overwhelming lesson, though I did learn the word for “accident”, which with the state of driving in this country might prove useful.

There were also the “interviews”. Just like yesterday, a bell rang outside, the corridor shook with hordes of student feet, the door slid open behind me and a swarm of giggles and whispers approached.

I swivelled to face the mob. Three or four would timidly approach, prodded by their peers, announce in unison “HELLO! HOW ARE YOU TODAY?”, look confused when I answered, elbow each other, then hit me with a well-practised chorus of “CAN WE ASK YOU SOME QUESTIONS?”

“Yes, of course.” I did need some insight into their abilities.

Then, in chorus, it was either “WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES?” or “ARE YOU SICK?” (rumours of my now-vanquished cold having spread faster than any germ) or “PLEASE TELL US YOUR COUNTRY HOW…NO…HOW IS YOUR COUNTRY…NO…HOW YOUR COUNTRY IS…DIFFERENT WITH…NO…DIFFERENT FROM…OUR COUNTRY!”

I answered, to blank-faced indifference, and that wave would retreat with a chorus of “WE HOPE YOU GET BETTER SOON!” (even though I’d just told them I was fine — that I’d almost skipped to school) as the next column marched in.


It was an invaluable insight into their abilities.

Then Eun Kyeong, who’s also very nice, introduced the squid:

Someone had brought it back from Gangwon Province in the icy north: “It’s very famous for squid.” And to my horror, Eun Kyeong opened the pack, and before I could shriek “Somebody stop that woman! She’s going to the microwave!”, one choice cephalopod had been selected and thrust into the oven.

Now?” I said, as the room filled with what I can only describe as the aroma of microwaved dried squid, “So early in the morning?”

“It’s very good,” she replied, slicing the now soft and supple beast into bite-sized strips, and the others gathered round:

Kyeong Aa, Eun Kyeong & Mrs Kim dispatch the squid

“Won’t you try?”

“Thank you, but I have a rule about not eating squid before lunchtime.”

“Mmm. It’s very good for making you strong.”

But at what price?

The odour lingered for ages, and in the meantime I was fed homemade popcorn…

..and enormous wedges of immaculately peeled and sliced apple. Then Eun Kyeong approached and announced that it was time for lunch.

I’ve been taken to enormous traditional lunches every day this week. I tried to evade this one, since I was genuinely full, but felt I might be committing some unpardonable faux pas, and anyway, as Mrs Kim said with another hearty laugh, “It’s not healthy to skip meals. Ha-ha-ha!

And I was glad I submitted:

Robyn Hitchcock, Victorian Squid:

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. Hmmmmm. Your experiences all seem (not so)vaguely familiar…. (Just a different language and country) I have to say, I don’t miss any of it. Ganbatte.

    • C’mon Martine, you must miss it a little bit! I suppose yr talking about your teaching in Japan gig. I think this might be similar though I’d venture the conditions and pay are a bit better here.

      I don’t think this will suck the way “teaching” at Westgate did. It’s not a complete rort for one thing…

  2. Hello, Goat.

    It’s great to hear that you are doing well in the land of plentiful squid and scarce lawns. Keep the posts and photos coming.


  3. Robert says

    I suspect some of those ubiquitous hills will be wearing goat-prints before your time in Gimhae is up.

    Always great reading…

    • Funny you should say that, Robert. After school today I was walking down some backstreets, saw some steps going up into the hills behind the school and ended up doing a nice dusk ridge walk, absolutely no idea where I might end up and with light fading. Came out in a church and was only 20 mins from home…

      Glad you’re enjoying the posts.

  4. Microwaved squid? Is that right? I’m no chef, but I didn’t think the microwave would be the way to do it! In the end that spread you’ve got in the photo at the end is looking pretty tasty. Good to see you’ve settled in (I think!). I’m looking forward to your posts this year as I think they’re might be beyond offbeat!

    • Yeah, Greg, it didn’t appeal to me at all. As Andrew commented, dried squid (un-microwaved) is popular (in Japan at least and I guess here) as a snack while drinking, though myself, I’d rather chew on some salted shoe leather.

      Offbeat is easier here than off the beaten track — every track has been beaten to death! But I will deliver…

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