I’d start off with an apologetic statement about how I haven’t written in a while. I’d give some hand-wringing, unlikable-but-worthy excuse and hope you all forgive me for having lapsed in farting my thoughts out into the World Wide Web.
Fact is: no one really cares. Blogging has always felt like shouting from a cliff top with a minimal amount of clothes on: invigorating, but you wouldn’t want your friends to see you.
This is not a swipe at any people who actually enjoy reading my stuff, I welcome you with a curious look on my face that would more usually be seen on someone who has just overturned a parking fine, and found a fiver under the sofa all in the same hour. In other words, I greet news that people out there read this blog with an element of disproportionately-happy incredulity.
It has also not escaped my notice that people who stumble upon this blog (without the need for stumbleupon, the online equivalent of walking backwards down the street and swapping people’s newspapers every two minutes) is that they came to read about life as an EFL teacher in Korea.
No doubt they will have been disappointed, I have not offered any “here’s what I would do if your co-teacher brings a badger to your lesson” advice and I certainly haven’t tried to bemoan the system or sing its praises. I just think that adults are adults and they can make up their own mind about what they think. I’m old-fashioned like that.
In the past month and a bit I’ve been busy and on a huge comedown from starting my second year of teaching in Korea, this is not always the best way to approach a post but I would like to list a couple of things that I’ve learned. They are as follows:
Familiarity breeds contempt, it also harbours a lot of comfort. It depends how you look at it. Staying at the same school has been a bit of a strange shift in that I have become a fixture, rather than a novelty. I teach the same grades and the same syllabus, and I enjoy the freedom my school gives me to teach off-topic stuff.
On the other hand, I am less tolerant of some of the quirks of the Korean school system; this is compounded a little by having a nagging sense of irrelevance about what I am actually teaching.
“Hey kids, today’s lesson is about crystal meth!” *Jazz hands*
With no real idea of how it happened, I have also become a fantastic grump. Anyone who knows me will testify that I’m a cheery, friendly person most of the time. This can be chipped away at until you have a tuft-haired, stone-faced stress-machine who will mutter obscenities under his breath and castrate wrong-doers with a worn-down ruler.
Granted, being called “handsome” by screeching twelve-year old girls every morning is not the worst thing that can happen in any job. It has just lost its novelty, making the feeling of alienation even more pronounced.
I walk down the corridor with my hand raised preemptively in greeting for the bouncing, uniformed children who have not quite figured out how to navigate their small bodies through a corridor large enough to land a jumbo jet, without hitting obstacles. They sprawl out of their classrooms as the bell goes, swaying and crashing into each other like big atoms, the entire time shouting “Hi teacher! HIIIIIIIII!!!!!” I suppose I should be honoured, not terrified.
Maybe part of the issue is that I’m professionally bored, I don’t feel stretched or tested in the way I would like to be and my inner task-master is telling me to get to grips with myself and get a real qualification. It isn’t a gripe against the kids, or the school. I just feel that I’m going to be ready to move on soon, and with that feeling comes all the angst of what to do and how.
This isn’t glossed over by my family, either. My mother was in Chester recently, visiting a few friends who are in the EFL racket and their take on my doing a second year in Korea was one of bemusement; I will be just as unqualified after my second year as I was before I got on the plane in February 2010 and therefore still unemployable (as far as EFL teaching goes) in the UK or elsewhere. Obviously I haven’t let this turd-like titbit of information get to me at all –much less to the point of writing a blog about it—but I am now looking at alternative means to achieve my dream job.*
Anyway, the turbulence has been unsettling at worst and exciting at best, following the white rabbit down the hole isn’t always fun and sometimes it gets pretty dark, both in mood and lighting. This time two years ago I was writing on how much of a miserable bastard Larkin was/wasn’t and seeing teaching in Korea as an almost unattainable pie in the sky. It would be prudent then, to not be too opposed to the ‘toad work’ out here and see it for what it is: not without its issues, but far from unbearable.
A quick note to any people out there who care about my running:
The Jeju marathon was late March, Dan and myself both clocked personal records (him at 3.34, me at 4.01), we compounded our error strewn travel plans by missing the ferry home by a measly minute. Thankfully we were well received by some fellow foreigners who had also run that day, they let us share their cabin and serenaded us with Ukulele-adaptations of Todd Snyder songs, and alcohol.
The next race was the Changwon half-marathon. I ran in a personal record of 1.41, which nearly killed me. The weather was warm, the beer cold and the banter was great. A U.S Navy band played Stevie Wonder medleys in the town square, bliss.
The most recent race was the Jinju Marathon, my last full course of the year. I had to finish in four hours or less, I hardly trained for it.
EPB and myself were both aiming for massive reductions in our times and we stood at the very front of the corral, occasionally giving the local press a silly gesture or two. The gun went and so did we, across three bridges and through tunnels around the beautiful Nam River that flows through Jinju. I flagged around eighteen kilometers and tried to keep myself upright and running, it was hard-going. I was about ten minutes behind EPB and his high-five near the turnaround gave me a fresh boost, I unraveled my i-Pod and cranked up the volume on Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, the endorphins making me think of a giant stage in the sky –perhaps even a real Zeppelin—where Jimmy Page is thundering out meaty guitar riffs while Robert Plant screams tunefully over the valley.
“Oh father of the four winds, fill my sails
Across the sea of years
With no provision but an open face
Along the straits of fear”
Such mini-hallucinations are pretty common for me; it helps if I go off to a place in my mind where I don’t feel the pain in my feet or the tightness of my breath. I can just run, slowly but surely, to the finish.
With one kilometer to go, I looked at my watch for a final time. I was on 3.49, I was going to make it, I just had to keep my composure. Sure enough, I suddenly started to cry.
This has nearly happened before; my final song is always “Chariots of Fire” (anyone who wishes to mock, go ahead) and I can’t help but imagine all my family in the crowd, waving, cheering and smiling. I imagine family members I never really knew, ones who have passed and ones who mean the world to me. This inevitably makes me “kick” and run faster, it has also been known to make me very emotional.
I’ve seen athletes get teary-eyed, from the comfort of my sofa, and always denounced them as “poofs”. I then realized just how overwhelming it can be when your body is nearly out of gas and you’re on your way to accomplishing something quite special.
I crossed in 3.53 and immediately collapsed, I was found by my fellow runners and given many congratulatory gifts of beer and chocolate (neither of which I could manage so quickly after running) before we headed to a restaurant and, finally, the bus terminal.
All in all, a great accomplishment and something I am proud of. Now it is time for the running to become the backdrop to my next steps, whatever they will be.
*My dream job has changed many times since I was capable of original thought (which, contrary to some unkind teachers was not circa 2001) I recorded my first professional desire aged six in a drawing which depicted me as a benevolent badger-keeper. I then cottoned on and switched to astronaut, then to soldier, track-athlete, rugby player, police-officer, and spy. It was then I realized that teaching/writing was for me.