March 22, 2010

Korea for a Year (Getting Jigae With It!)

I promised myself I would do a blog or keep a journal while I was out here. One year later, and I haven’t. Half of the things I’ve done I’ve probably forgotten about.

Here’s the other half, mostly in bullet point form, the things I love about Korea, and the things I don’t.

Some things in Korea are great:

- The Food. I’m British. You know what that means. We like salted sawdust with a side dish of cow spittle. Usually. The food in Korea is rich and varied. Eating out is a joy – it’s fairly cheap, and delicious. Restaurants are everywhere, numbering, at a guess, ten times more than in the UK. Most places you can point at the pictures on the menu until you get going. You sometimes sit on the floor. You never get a plate, just a small dish to use, and a wide array of side dishes to choose from. Chopsticks and a spoon. The meat is often cooked in a pan, on the table. By you. This is called “Samgyeopsal”. Best. Food. Ever. I also love Kimchi Jigae, a spicy soup. And many others. I hate seafood which is a big part of Korean cuisine, but otherwise Korean food is very good, very colourful, healthy, and delicious.
- The people – The people here are very friendly. There are no neds/chavs/trailer trash/bad attitudes. No aggression. If you fell over, there would be a raft of people helping you up. Old people are respected. People don’t bump into you and swear at you like it was your fault. There’s almost no….
- Crime (Rate) – Practically* non-existent. Koreans have a philosophy of national unity – to hurt another is to hurt everyone. Crime barely exists here. High level (politicians etc.) corruption seems a slight problem, but petty crime? You can walk around any time of the day or night, even as a female, and, in the main, feel perfectly safe. (*My friend nick has had both his wallet and his bike stolen!! Then lost his wallet. He doubled the national crime figures single-handedly). Feeling safe at all times is not to be sniffed at.
- Transport system – You want a taxi? Just walk out and stand next to the main road, one will be along in a minute or two. Just flag it down. They are all very similar, and have a light in the windscreen if they are available. They are cheap too, about a third of the price of the UK. A basic fare is about a quid, and that will cover the first couple of miles. Trains are also cheap. You don’t have to book in advance to get a cheaper ticket like in the UK. I took a 4 hour journey last summer, booked it on the day, and it cost about a tenner. I actually went first class for an extra two pounds. The trains have a carriage devoted to entertainment with a snack counter, internet PCs, karaoke rooms, video games and a massage (vibrating) chair, none of which is overpriced. The long distance buses are cheap and clean. On the underground in Seoul you can buy a prepaid card, which you can top up, and swipe. Much easier than buying a ticket. Again it’s very cheap – a standard journey might be around 50 pence. On the whole, public transport is excellent and cheap here.
- Korean Kids. I work in a primary school and the Korean youngsters are impossibly cute, and very sweet. For the entire year I’ve been here they have been fascinated by their English teacher, and I have had a great time teaching them. I’m switching jobs to a High School next week, which will be 16-18 year olds, and I’m gonna miss my Korean teeny tots here at the Elementary like crazy. Big hugs to all of them.
- Video and Prize Machines in the Street. This relates to the chav/trailer trash/crime rate thing above. There are video games and prize games (grappling hook things etc) all over the place in Korea. We simply couldn’t have that in the UK. They would be smashed up and/or robbed.
- Noraebang. A word that won’t mean much to many. It’s a bit like karaoke – except you and your friends get a private room. Much better than listening to some drunken slapper murdering ‘Simply the Best’. You can also buy snacks and beer. It’s the Korean equivalent of nightclubbing i.e. it’s where you go last when everyone is pissed. Very common and popular here in Korea, and, it has to be said, great fun.
- The Women. The women here are very nice. They are, somehow, much simpler than western women. If you try and chat one up, they are very receptive and polite – happy to be spoken to. You might not get anywhere, as casual sex happens far less than it does back home. Western women, by comparison, treat the whole chatting up thing like a game of ‘banter’ – demure doesn’t exist any more with them. It’s possible to meet women here by just being nice, rather than having to be outrageously witty. Also, Korean women are rarely fat, or have big arses, or laugh like drains, or are loud-mouthed slappers with bad attitudes. Do I have a chip on my shoulder about UK women? Maybe lol. But Korean women are (and the whole process of meeting woman is), simpler, nicer, less caustic, less demanding, less weird, and, they are, on the whole, slimmer.
- Toileting. The Korean attitude to visiting a restroom is much more, dare I say it, adult, than ours. Most male toilets have one main door, even in a public place, and it’s not unusual to be able to see in, if you wanted to. Sometimes male and female share a room, there may be a urinal outside a cubicle (stall for my US readers!) and the cubicle is shared. At my school the female cleaner might come in and mop around my feet while I’m using the urinal! The teachers and pupils share the facilities. Can you imagine that in a UK school? In short, the Koreans take a much more laid back, less tense, less hysterical attitude than we take to nature’s calls of duty. They are less prudish, and I have to say, I prefer there attitude to our hysterical accusatory weirdness. I won’t mention some Korean ‘restrooms’, which are occasionally, by western standards, primitive, but Korean attitudes to such things are far more normal than ours.

On the whole I like Korea, but here are a few things that in my opinion could be improved...

- Toilet paper outside the cubicles. This is a mistake you only make once! At my school the TP is on one large roll OUTSIDE the cubicles. It’s also a bit weird estimating how much you are going to need! OK enough about toilets.
- Pedestrian Crossings. No, I don’t like waiting 4 or 5 minutes to cross the street. Really, 4 or 5 minutes for the lights to change. There’s a bakery across from my school that I can’t visit before I go to work, as I may be late if I have to wait for the pedestrian crossing to change twice. Also jay walking is illegal here – no one does it, so you have to wait. Ball. Ache.
- Economic Superpowers in the News. Buy a newspaper here, and every page is about international trade and business. It’s a Korean obsession – their national standing in the world. If I buy a newspaper I want to read news, not another story about a multi-billion dollar trade link with some western country. What happened yesterday in Korea? Nothing, apparently, other than global trade.
- Last Minute Changes. True story. I received a phone call about 8.45am to say that my first class (9am) was cancelled. About 9.20am I received a second phone call to say that my second class (9.50am) was also cancelled. Around 10 am I received a third phone call to say that all my classes for the day would be cancelled. Ten minutes later thirty or so kids walked in and sat down for their English lesson. That’s an extreme yet true example. They love last minute changes in Korea.
- Every city looks the same. Tall, grey, modern concrete tower blocks, and run-down shacks. Some parts of Korea are a bit of an eyesore to be honest. Although the countryside can be beautiful, the cities and towns can be a bit of a blight. Some look good at night though, as they love neon, flashing lights and huge TV screens. It’s like being in Bladerunner sometimes.
- Motorcycles Riding on the Pavement. This is not a biggie. It just takes a little getting used to.
- Shop Assistants. Most though not all shop assistants follow everyone around the shop, two feet over your shoulder, even if there are only you and him/her in the shop. If you show the slightest interest in any item, expect a full on sales-pitch. In Korean. Very, very annoying if you’re just browsing. It’s not that rude here to shoo away the assistants, so I tried it once. They backed off until I picked up an item from a shelf and they both came scuttling back, babbling away in Korean about the soap I was admiring. I have walked out of shops because of this. Drives me crazy.

Overall, I love Korea. The people are friendly, the food is great, and there’s lots to do. It’s not that big, it’s easy and cheap to get around with a clean and modern infrastructure. It’s not ‘touristy’. It’s often not that pretty, really, and consequently you may start to miss interesting buildings that aren’t made of concrete.

If you teach here, they will pay you more than enough to live a nice lifestyle. There are many westerners, as most schools have a native English speaker. There is also a large American military presence in some areas, which can mean lots of western-style bars and restaurants.

If you’re thinking of coming, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, but don’t expect everything to be the same as back home. It won't be.

March 20, 2010

The Greatest Crime in the History of the English Language (Probably)

How the Americans Kidnapped the Letters 'A' and 'T' and Sent Them Back as 'E' and 'D' (Or how to alienate 300 million people in 500 words or less).

I'm English, and that, of course, gives me the divine right to tell everyone what to do.

Alright, it doesn't, I accept that...

At school, in England, the place where English comes from, we were all consistently and persistently instructed what 'proper' English was and wasn't.

Later that evening we might be watching, say, Eastenders (a popular soap in the UK) and we would know that the language and dialect they were using on there was, by and large, riddled with the same faults as the dialect we used.

To be more precise, in England there are literally hundreds, if not more, of regional dialects. Many share some similarities, for example the dropping of the letter 'h' at the beginning of a word is common both to the east end of London, and to my home town of Hull ('Ull!) in East Yorkshire 200 miles away, though the dialects themselves are altogether different.

Another common feature of English English (not a typo) dialects is the turning of the letter 't' in the middle of the word into a glottal stop. So the word 'butter' for example becomes "bu'-er".

Vowel pronunciation varies from region to region also. Many pronounce the 'i' in 'five' as 'foive'. In my home town this is more like 'fahv'. Again, we know, though, that this is dialect and the 'proper' pronunciation is something else.

In short we use a lot of our letters incorrectly, we pronounce, when using our local dialects, many words 'incorrectly'. The way English should be spoken and pronounced, without dialect or inflection is unquestionably the received pronunciation of middle- and upper-class England. These people pronounce all their consonants, and all their vowels, correctly. This is English. Everything else, whether you're from Birmingham, Alabama, Birmingham, England, Australia, Toronto or Christchurch is a variation, a dialect, an accent. We, you, and everyone else, barring those 'perfect' English speakers of middle England, are 'doing it wrong'. They set the standard to which we all must aspire.

So, if most of the world bar a few million English English speakers don't speak English correctly, why am I having a go at American pronunciation?

Well, when the aforementioned Cockney or Hullite is talking about 'aving a bi' o' buh-er' (having a bit of butter) he or she knows that he or she is using a dialect. Most would not dream of presuming that they were speaking the way the English language is written or meant to be spoken. We know when chatting, that there is proper English that we are not using. We are aware that we are dropping t's and h's left right and centre. If we were to visit a Crown Court, or watch Parliament or Royalty on the TV, we would be reminded that this is the way English is spoken, without regional dialect, with the t's and h's in place, and with vowels pronounced as they should be.

Americans on the other hand use their dialect in all walks of life, and I refer specifically to the letters 'a' and 't'. A very good American friend of mine recently visited the theatre out here in Korea where I am currently teaching (American!!) English. 'What did you go to see?', I politely asked her. Her reply? 'Phennom'. Now knowing her American accent I immediately deduced she was talking about 'Phantom of the Opera', but how did phantom come to be pronounced phennom? I don't care. How does any dialect come about? This is not the point of my diatribe. My point is that 'phennom' American English is the standard whether you are listening to the American president or Eminem. It does not have a 'right and proper' standard of pronunciation like English people know they are not speaking when they drop their 't's' and 'h's' etc..

In an auction, a person who is making bids on an item may be known as a bidder. A food that is the very opposite of sweet, could be called 'bitter'. In American English, these two words are pronounced exactly the same - 'bidder'. That's not a problem. Most people in England would drop the middle t's. The difference is that we would know that we were doing it, and if called upon to speak properly, would be able to pronounce these consonants, for the most part anyway, correctly. Across the board in America, the letter 'a' becomes 'e' (phennom, bank/benk, can/ken) and the letter 't' when appearing in the middle of a word becomes 'd' (bitter/bidder, letter/ledder, party/pardy etc.), and this error in pronunciation does not have a higher value, like English English does, that it aspires to. When you speak to an American you are getting d's as t's no matter whom you listen to, from whatever walk of life.

As an English teacher in South Korea, a British (Briddish!) one at that, I often despair that the letter (ledder) 't' has no future in the middle of a word, or that I will never visit a bank (benk!) again. The world wants American English, partly because of its popularity, especially in business and culture (e.g. movies), but why, in Education, when correctness and accuracy is all, are we teaching a dialect, when English has a standard?

March 17, 2010

St Patrick’s Day Rant

I’ve nothing against the Irish. I cheer on both their football teams when they are playing anyone except England, I like their comedians, I would even like to visit the Emerald Isle someday. It sounds like a lovely place.

However, it amazes me that people in England celebrate St Patrick’s day with such gusto, whilst ignoring our own Saint’s day (St George’s Day, April 23rd).

St Patrick’s Day is big all over the world. There have been parades in some US and Canadian cities for over a hundred years, the one in Boston since 1737. In Chicago they dye the entire river green. In almost every ‘westernised’ country, we have St Patrick’s day celebrations.


Why do we celebrate the Irish diaspora more than, say, the Scots? Or even the English for that matter? There’s no doubt that Irish people have many fine traits, but don’t the Welsh too? What about Italians? Spanish? They are also beautiful and lovely people, whose nationals now inhabit many, many countries.

I know that many people fled Ireland and moved to America, but actually more Germans did, around the same time, and there are more people of German descent than Irish, in America. Why are there Irish parades and not German ones? (Remember that these parades have been going on since before both wars).

In England, we grew up in the 1980s with terrorist bombs and ‘The Troubles’ on the news regularly. Thousands of people died, in Ireland and in the UK. This is one aspect of Irish history that is difficult for anyone to forget. I appreciate that these days a spirit of mutual cordiality exists between the two nations, and I am happy about that, but to celebrate another country’s saint above our own, especially one with which we have had (something of a) recent conflict? This I can’t understand.

This is not an anti-Irish polemic, just an expression of bemusement as to why the entire world celebrates one nation’s exodus and people above other nations who have equal rights to be celebrated, and yet further bewilderment as to why anyone English would celebrate it at all. A drink to cordiality? Sure, of course. Wearing green and drinking Guinness in England? Piss off.

March 15, 2010

People On Facebook Will Believe Any Old Crap

Social networking. This fashion-generation’s (every few years fashion sea-changes, doesn’t it?) hot thing.

I have an average number of friends on FB, and I would say that the majority of them are intelligent, sensible, sentient beings. I wouldn’t expect them to be suckered in real life too often.

So why do I see so many of my friends falling for obvious fake Facebook pages?

Invite all your friends and we’ll send you a free laptop.
Invite all your friends and we’ll send you a free I-Pad (worst name ever for a product by the way).
Invite all your friends and we’ll donate to the Relief Fund for…..
Invite all your friends and we’ll unlock a secret part of Farmville/Mafia Wars etc

You get the picture?

Why do people set these up? I guess it’s for money. Somehow. Or notoriety? Or kicks? Who knows? How much money can there be in creating a page for a pie-in-the-sky Farmville gift?

No doubt there’s financial motivation behind some of it, perhaps in the form of contact-harvesting for pushing other promotions, but I can’t help thinking some of these fan pages are set up by lonely saddos, just to see how many people they can get to join so that they can feel better about themselves.

March 09, 2010

Other Things That Get My Goat - Part 1 - Holocaust Denial

Holocaust deniers are liars. I am not going to afford them the ‘stage name’ that they’ve adopted, ‘revisionists’, let’s just call them what they are – LIARS!

In almost any country in the world that has a judiciary system, it is possible to secure a murder conviction on the account of a single solitary witness. Have half-a-dozen witnesses, and it’s a nailed-on certainty that you are going down.

There are dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of books about the Holocaust, and having that many books and writings on the subject, there are, of course, conflicting reports. One report might say that 91% of Polish Jews were murdered, another might say it was 92%. At Auschwitz, the estimated numbers murdered vary between 1.5 million and 5 million.

It’s these inconsistencies in figures that the LIARS pick up on. They say that A’s testimony doesn’t match B’s testimony, so it must all be nonsense. Only a weasel with an ulterior motive would come to that conclusion. Let’s get one thing straight right here and now. If you hear anyone denying the Holocaust, saying it didn’t happen, they are LYING, and they are lying for political reasons. Dig deeper, you will find they are fascist, or anti-Semitic, or have some other agenda, and that agenda doesn’t involve truth.

There are, and there is absolutely no doubt about this, thousands and thousands of witnesses who testified to these killings. German Nazis, English Military personnel and clergy, civilians of every European nation, soldiers, and prisoners themselves. How can you ignore all this testimony and say it didn’t happen? How? Why would you want to? The only reason anyone would do this is because they are political liars, subverting truth for their own ends.

Next time you hear someone denying the Holocaust, remember, for a moment, how many innocent children were systematically, methodically, slaughtered, and spit in the LIAR’S face.

March 08, 2010

Mock Outrage, Child Killers, and Mob Rule.

There’s been a huge fuss made over the last day or two about Jon Venables. For those that don’t know who he is – click here – but bear in mind the details of his crime are quite horrific.

Recently, this (then a child himself) child killer, has been rearrested and imprisoned. Details are emerging via the press that it’s for child pornography charges. Now all of these charges, previous and present, are extremely serious indeed, and should without question be dealt with by the full force of the law, and no doubt will be.

His crimes, serious though they are, are not the reason I’m writing. The reason is the mob rule mock-outraged idiots demanding to know more details of the crime, more details of JV, more, more, more.

Firstly, many, though not all, will be the typical mob rule morons who confused the word ‘paediatrician’ with the word ‘paedophile’ and daubed a doctor’s house with graffiti! (Click here for the story). You’ve got to laugh at this level of stupidity. Ricky Gervais lampooned it perfectly, asking why would a child molester have a brass plaque outside his house!?!

These are the types of ‘righteous’ people who will signing petitions on Facebook etc. demanding this, that and the other. That’s if they have time to go Facebook between episodes of Jeremy Kyle and Trisha.

The second type of people who will be frothing at the mouth, and throwing women and children over their shoulders to get to the front of the ‘offended queue’ will be your tabloid journalists, god love ‘em. Newspapers exist for one reason alone, to make money. Any sensationalist story like this will be milked for all it’s worth (plenty) because the Kyle/Trisha watchers won’t be able to get enough of it down their fat stupid necks.

The Kyle watching public NEED situations like these to make themselves feel better about their own grubby little lives. They may be skanking benefits, have half a dozen kids to half a dozen men, be overweight, thick as two short planks due to refusing education, and annoying, but at least they’re not as bad as some villain in the paper.

Not only are the tabloids milking dry a story which deserves less airtime due it’s horror, they are saying they are doing it for moral reasons, not profit, and the people who buy into it, literally, are made to feel better by comparison. Everyone’s a winner! The papers sell by the million and mug the people into believing that tabloids actually exist for another reason other than profit, and the Kyle watchers and tabloid readers feel better about themselves for a few days. Well done everyone.

Yes, the crimes are horrific, the worst of any type of crime in fact, but the mob rule morons who justify their own crappy existences by comparison don’t half get on my nerves!!

March 02, 2010

Take It As Red

Why Is There No Provision Made For Colourblind People?

[See the picture on the left? I can see nothing in it except dots!]

Seven percent of males are colour blind. One percent of males have deuteranopia, one form of colourblindness which affects the ability to distinguish between certain colour groups. I ‘suffer’ from it, and I have great trouble seeing the difference between orange/red/yellow/green/brown, between blue/violet, and very light colours, like light pink and light grey. I also cannot see small amounts of colour, like the full stop at the end of this sentence. I’ll assume it’s black, but I’ll have to take your word for it.

This is not a severe disability in any way. It’s not even a disability in the legal sense of the word. I don’t recall being given a free computer and two hundred quid a week, so it can’t be. My life, I suppose, functions as normal. But because I’m colourblind, I am excluded from being many things: a pilot, an electrician, a doctor/vet/nurse or anything in the medical profession, a painter and decorator. Any creative- or arts-related vocation would be difficult for me to do, especially something like professional design. I doubt the Armed Forces would be too chuffed at me shooting the green beret instead of the red one. However none of these things affect my daily routine – many people are excluded from certain professions for many differing reasons. However, there are some things that do affect how I get through my day as a colourblind person, and, frankly, I feel I, and the rest of the seven percent, could do with some help here.

One thing I always have trouble with when visiting London is the Tube Map. Long, very thin/small lines of very similar colours. Greens and browns, yellows and oranges, blues and purples. Imagine someone gave you the following instructions for getting across London on the tube…

”Choose the green line, or the brown line, until you reach either the blue line or the purple line, then, take either the pink or grey line until you reach the red or green line, and you’re there!"

You know where I’m going with this right? Unfortunately, anyone who is colourblind has great difficulty knowing where they are going if trying to follow the London Underground map. It needs an additional system, or an alternative map for the many millions of colourblind people who use it. A system that doesn’t rely solely on colour for its clarity.

Here’s another scenario. A real one too.
“When the [very small] orange light has turned green, your cordless drill is fully charged”. Why couldn’t they have two separate lights? Why did they have to rely solely on colour when a percentage (around 7% of males) won’t be able to decipher it? Why, and this is a huge bugbear of mine, couldn’t they have additional text, under a second light that says ‘when this light is on your drill is fully charged’. (“Fully Charged” would no doubt suffice, or some other EASILY DECIPHERED abbreviation). I just leave my drill on overnight. I have no other choice. And why do manufacturers rely on lights anyway? Or just as bad, symbols? How many different symbols are there on electrical items? Go and look at you hair dryer, DVD player, or toaster. I guarantee they all have different symbols for similar things. Why can’t they just say on and off, in text? Why use a symbol? Why do different manufacturers use different symbols for the same thing? Worst of all, why do some manufacturers rely solely on colour to denote something is on/off/done/ready/overheating/malfunctioning when seven percent of males can’t see it? Is it because a small percentage of customers can’t read text? It’s a shame they didn’t offer colourblind people the same consideration. One percent of people can’t read or write, 3.5 percent of people (i.e. seven percent of males) can’t see colours properly. Someone in marketing is not analysing these statistics correctly!

What befuddles me the most is how the whole situation has gone on so long without anyone complaining about it. In an age where every hindrance, ‘challenge’, or disability has a long-winded name (you’re not crap at spelling, you’re dyslexic), a charity, and government department dedicated to easing the lives of its sufferers, colourblindess, it would seem, is attracting the attention of precisely and absolutely no-one.

I’m not going to compare the statistics of real disabilities, nor will I compare ways in which one disability is worse than another, that would possibly be hurtful to some, and in very bad taste, but what I can’t understand is why government bodies, when deciding and deliberating the design of an item that is going to be used every day by millions of people, like a tube map, chose to ignore the reading abilities of 7% of one half of the population?

Perhaps because no one who works in professional design is ever colourblind?

Whatever the reason, colourblindness is real, is a REAL hindrance, and it’s time something was done about it.