Friday, 31 January 2014

Trying to Try New Things

During January two ever so slightly less than successful new experiences have come my way.

1. Skiing

Looking back I was so naive to think what I thought: that everyone could ski, that it was no big deal. In my head those things were true. And that's how Lee and I ended up at the top of a mountain slope, wondering how the f*ck we were going to get down. 

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I put on the boots. They were incredibly tight and rigid, and almost impossible to walk in. I nearly fell on the steps from the car park to the ski slope. I probably should've turned back then.

I tried to learn how to move and stop. I couldn't do it. Within minutes Lee went sliding uncontrollably down into the path of oncoming skiers, promptly falling over and detaching ski boot from ski.

For some reason after this we and our two other companions thought the natural progression would be to get on the ski lift and just 'give it a go.'
The journey was pretty and would've been quite relaxing had I not been thinking about how I was going to manage to get off the thing.
Lee was in front and it was his turn. 
He got off and fell over. 
I nearly snapped my legs off having not understood the Korean command 'lift your feet up.' My turn came and I began to panic. I couldn't bring myself to jump off the stupid thing. 
Before I knew it I was swinging around and heading back down. 
I wish they'd left me but unfortunately the staff pressed the emergency stop button and, much to my extreme mortification, came to my rescue. They took my skis off and put them to the side. I waddled over, re-attached them, moved about three feet and fell on my bum.
In the middle of asking if I was OK, Lee began to slide towards the hill. Before either of us knew what was happening, he was sliding down the hill. 
My friend thought Lee was simply keen to get stuck in, but I'd seen the look on his face as he went faster and faster with no idea of how to stop.
He disappeared, leaving me to wonder: 
a) if he was going to live to tell the tale  
b) how I was going to go about following him.

The next hour consisted of me shuffling, slightly sliding, falling, spending excessive amounts of energy trying to get up, getting sweaty and stressed and being embarrassed.
I thought skiing was supposed to be fun?
Eventually I asked my friend to go on without me, leaving me to cool off in the awkward position on the slope that I'd fallen in. 
Lee came back for me- which was very nice considering he felt he was a risk up on that slope to himself and everyone else around.  
I had one last failure of a go and after that we took our skis off and slid down the mountain in our boots. Now that was quite fun!

Next time (if there is one) I will be getting a lesson.

Sitting safely at the bottom

2. Visiting a dog cafe. 

Dog and cat cafes are pretty normal in Korea. They are what they say on the tin- a place to drink coffee with friends and pet said animals. 
I've always been intrigued, which is why I forgot to consider one rather large problem- I hate dogs.
On the journey there it became more and more apparent that I was being a bit stupid. I've never been friends with a dog. I've been bitten by two different dogs and attemptedly humped by several. They are smelly and needy and hairy and disgusting. They bark and jump up and have big teeth. In general- except for the really small fluffy ones- I find them quite terrifying.  
As you can imagine I felt like a complete idiot when we arrived and I had to be coaxed even into the 'small dog' arena. How stupid do you have to be to go to a dog cafe when you're not at all keen on dogs?

Lee and his new friends
In the big boys section were a range of breeds and sizes, free to jump up on the adoring customers as they pleased. I lingered at the gate, looking over nervously, but couldn't bring myself to go in.

So I sat in the corner, hoping none of the little dogs would notice I was there. Sometimes a big dog or two would enter the small dog pen, causing an uproar of noise amongst the dogs, and a near heart attack in me. A golden retriever thought it would be funny to slip in when the gate was opened, and run around the edge of the room under all the tables. My heart leapt into my mouth as I held my breath, hoping he would pass without attacking me. 

And then, the beast to end all beasts, the king of all that is canine, a massive white thing paraded through with its owner. It was fluffier than anything I've ever seen on four legs, yet still its part-wolf-part-horse look frightened the living daylights out of me. Surely it could (and may well) devour every single one of us? My only protection was the chihuahua sitting next to me who began yapping like crazy, clearly thinking he could take on the monster.

Teddy bear/monster wolf cross breed

Thankfully the outing wasn't a complete disaster, in that I did make one friend. A small raggedy old thing that sat next to me, tongue out, slobbering on the chair. Sure, he was asleep for most of the time, but I did manage to stroke him a couple of times.

So there you have it: a summary of how Rachel tried and failed to do new things! 

What will be next?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Oh, You Kids!

A bit of background info about the place I work at.
Seoul English Village is an English immersion camp, with situational classes. Students come and stay here for a few days, usually with their school, usually hundreds of students at a time. Students come, students go: a fact which has positives and negatives in equal parts. We get variety in age, English level and background of students, but don't get to build relationships. Kids we like leave, and so do kids we don't like.

Over Winter Camp we've done Oral Tests, to allow us to put the students into teams based on their level. The Oral Test involves asking questions, to elicit answers hopefully using a range of tenses and vocabulary. As the student sits down in the seat opposite us, we have no idea where they're going to be at. Sometimes they are incredibly cheerful, other times they look around shiftily, looking for someone to rescue them. Sometimes they're fluent. And other times when we ask the first question, 'how are you?' the answer is a slow, practiced, careful 'I am nine years old.'

Usually I ask a random selection of suggested questions on the list, steering clear of the last one.

"What is the most important thing in the world?"

 Whoa there! I'm sure there are many adults who would struggle to come up with a quick or real answer to this mind blowing question. I can't help feeling it's immenseness is rather inappropriately aimed at the (more often than not) 9-12 age bracket here at SEV.
That being said, this time around I decided to give the question a go and have become intrigued and slightly addicted to the answers.

                               "My brother"
"Study" (so I can speak to people when I visit Paris) 

                         "My dream" (to become an actor as well as teacher)

and the most wonderful answer of all, 

I love how individually valid and different these answers are. There's a distinct line between awareness of the wider world and a close, egocentric (and therefore childish) sense of what is important.

A class here that can be at either end of the mind numbingly boring-amazingly interesting spectrum for a teacher is Post Office. The main aim of this class is for each student to write a letter to their favourite teacher. More often than not the kids have only been here for a couple of days, and so aren't particularly bothered about writing to a teacher. Other times their English is so poor that they do well just to copy out the words I've written on the board, including the gaps I meant for them to fill with their own words.

I'm having a ____________ time at SEV.
My favourite class so far is______________.

Nice one.
Needless to say, every teacher is thrilled when one of these bad boys appears in their mailbox.

Other times you get a strangely insulting letter, such as the one I got a few weeks ago, which went something like this:

Teacher have big face
I'm love you
I'm sorry!

My my. Rude and bad grammar. 

But then occasionally you get those students who've been here for a while, who know the teachers and really want to write a good letter (and not to mention, have the ability to do it). My most recent Post Office class was one of these instances, and here are some of the results:

One Last Winner is a quiz competition- does she think it's gonna be lots of questions relating to snow??

He is quite alone in being impressed with the food here!

I'm concerned my hair colour has really descended into a nasty yellow.

Another highly entertaining event here at SEV is the evening Winter/Summer Camp Talent Show, of which we've had a few recently. The talent show is a time for students to dance, sing, attempt magic tricks or put on skits. It's all very cute. There are times when the kids are so good they leave you speechless.
And there are other times when they leave you speechless in a whole other way. A couple of weeks ago we had one of those Talent Shows, where most of the acts were just plain painful. One girl (I like to think of her as the ringleader of the painfulness) decided to sing a cappella. It's not that she was bad, it's just that even professionals can't necessarily sing to a room full of people without musical accompaniment. The audience talked over her and we were embarrassed for her, but she plowed on, seemingly unaware (for not one but two songs.) At the end she won third place, but when she got up to receive her prize she looked far from pleased, clearly not having praticed her 'gracious loser' face.
Then last week she came back for more! Her rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream,' from Les Miserables of course had no music to accompany it. It was a painful re-enactment of the last weeks performance, but made even better by the last note, which dragged on and on.

drrreeeeaaaaaaaaammmmmm! (for at least 10 long, slightly warbly seconds)

Loved it.  


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Getting into Nature

Whilst not being a fan of new years resolutions, I have decided that this year I want to make an effort to get out in nature more. I've spent the last few years living in cities- and capital ones at that- and find it's easy to get sucked into the charms of the man-made and forget to do anything else. When I'm at home especially, I spend the majority of my time in Coventry, Birmingham, London or other cities, with not much chance to get out into the countryside. It was only last summer when I had the use of my Mum's car that I have the chance to see some fields and trees.
It is often argued that how much time we spend in nature can have an impact on our mental health. In today's world it's easy to go day to day from building to building, from concrete to concrete. We are guilty of sometimes valuing technology and money above animals, trees and water, which when all is said and done are things we cannot survive without. To not ever experience the natural world, is, quite simply, unnatural.

Our school here in Seoul is right next to the mountains. A few days ago I went on a hike with a friend, finding ourselves away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city within ten minutes of leaving the house. There are various trails, a Buddhist temple (with chants emanating through the doors) as well as a tower that shows an incredible panoramic view of the city. There are also some outdoor gym areas dotted around. One place was like a youth club; music blaring, people hanging out and chatting, the only difference being that they were all over the age of fifty.
The mountains are such a calm and tranquil place so close to home. I must remember to go there more often, and next time I will attempt to fit in with the Koreans by taking some makkoli (rice wine) to enjoy at the top.

Yesterday Lee and I went to Seoul Forest, which is meant to be the biggest park in Seoul. It has been compared to London's Hyde Park and New York's Central Park, but I have to say it paled in insignificance in comparison to either. Perhaps it would be nicer at a different time of year, with leaves on the trees and running water features, but I still couldn't help being a bit disappointed. Seoul is known for its lack of green parks, and Seoul Forest is no exception, favouring concrete over grass in most instances. We had hoped to hire bikes but were told when we got there that you had to hire them from the subway station. The park is also so surrounded by freeways that the constant hum of traffic was never far off.   
Complaints aside, we had a good walk and had fun playing in the children's play areas. We drank warming coffee and visited the adorable baby deer park. 


Some rules for the park. No burping? Seems a little strict.

And one last ramble on the theme of the 'natural.'
Recently I've been going to the gym a bit and am thoroughly enjoying the Korean attitude towards nudity. The women parade around stark naked in the changing rooms, chatting and blow drying and generally seeming ultra proud of themselves. One girl even put on her bra, t-shirt and jumper before even thinking about putting on a pair of knickers. I'm not sure whether to call them weird for being so open, or to admire their lack of prudishness, but either way it's pretty entertaining. 

Well that's it from me. Have you been anywhere nice recently?