Archive

Archive for August, 2007

T plus 3 days

Things are still on the depressing side, but at least I know have some inklings of how to make progress.

Yesterday, I went to my hometown of Runcorn. I forgot to take my key to my parents’ house, so I couldn’t get in and use their computer. I also went to the house of a couple of friends, but they weren’t around. At Halton Lea (or Shopping City, as I’m sure everyone still calls it) Library I managed to use the internet for an hour – I suppose I should have been registered with the library in order to use it, but the staff let me have a ‘one-off’ use. And I didn’t achieve much, other than sending a few brief e-mails.

Later, I went to see The Bourne Ultimatum, which was quite entertaining. It used a kind of jerky, NYPD Blue camera style throughout, which I’m indifferent to. The fight and action scenes were pretty good; the fight between Bourne and another brainwashed agent, Desh, was very effective – brutal and silent. And today, I’ve just been to see The Simpsons Movie – and I thought it was fantastic. Back in Korea (a long time ago), one or two people had said that it was underwhelming, that it consisted of the material for one twenty-odd minute episode padded out to one and a half hours (or however long it was), but I disagree. It seemed perfectly paced to me, and full of the slapstick, satire and warmth that makes The Simpsons so wonderful.

In other news, I’m thinking of buying a phone. Tesco has some handsets for £25. If I do, it’ll be the first mobile phone that is genuinely mine – the one I had in Korea belonged to the school. I suppose in my current state of incommunicado-ness it might be a good idea.

I should probably do something with my laptop, too – like format the hard disk and install English Windows. Vista is very nice, but it may just end up being XP that I’ll install. Maybe I should buy Vista, but spending money is not something I do easily. Up to a point, I could probably manage with the OS in Korean, but apart from the annoyance of not understanding Korean itself is an annoying language. At the moment I’m just writing my blog entries on Notepad (or memojang, as it’s apparently called in Korean). Then I can copy the files to my USB dongle and from there transfer them to a PC with the internet. (This laptop should be equipped with wireless, but I’m not sure I would know how to use that even if it was in English.)

Categories: Life

Back in grey

Last night I got to Manchester Airport at about 9:30. I got through the controls with no problems; I possibly should have declared some stuff, what with my brand new laptop and my miriad presents, but – meh. At the airoprt, I walked along the ‘sky walkway’ or whatever it’s called and arrived at ‘the station’. According to the displays there was nothing going to St Helens (although I did see the 199 bus destined for my sister’s village). I went down to the railway station and asked, ‘How can I get to St Helens?’ The answer was to go via Manchester Piccadilly (by train), Manchester Victoria (by tram) and St Helens Junction (by train again) – which cost me 8 pounds (damn this US layout keyboard).

When I arrived at St Helens Junction at about quarter to twelve I found that I’d missed the last bus going to my brother’s place by half an hour. I set off walking in search of a taxi. In Korea, taxis are all over the place, but the same cannot be said of British suburbs in the middle of the night. As I walked I remembered a time maybe two years ago when, having just come back (via the Junction again) from either flat- or job-hunting in London, I’d walked to the town centre and then found a taxi hire place; they told me there weren’t any taxis available, so I walked the rest of the way.

This time, as my arms were beginning to feel the strain of my baggage, I found an Esso station and moseyed on over. There was a short south Asian guy on duty and I told him I wanted to get a taxi; he said taxis stop here every ten minutes or so. So I began to wait. Although the petrol station was locked, he asked me if I wanted to use the toilet, and a little while later I asked if I could come in and use the cash machine, which he let me do (the machine displayed an error both times I tried to use it). The Esso man ended up phoning a taxi for me; he also said I could help myself to a drink from the cabinet, but I decided I’d wait until I got home before having a drink.

Eventually, the taxi came and, once I’d been let out of the locked petrol station, I was driven to my brother’s house (the journey consumed about half of the nearly 14 pounds I had on me). When I got there I found that my brother had no food, no tea and no internet. I went to bed.

Being here is quite depressing. My brother has a friend staying or living with him. I can barely bring myself to talk to my brother, and I’ve exchanged a couple of grunts with his friend. I don’t know if my brother works, but he clearly doesn’t have a lot of money. There doesn’t even appear to be any hot water in the house; this morning I boiled kettles of water (the same kettle boiled consecutively, rather than several kettles at once) in order to wash. I’m also a bit scared of his dogs. The bigger one doesn’t seem to have a problem with me, but the smaller one (they’re both mastiffs or something similar) keeps growling at me and biting my shoes. The house smells of dog and cigarette smoke.

At least getting out and about today has brought my spirits up a little. My first stop was Lloyds TSB; the money I sent back on Monday has gone into my account, and my cashcard still works (and I remember the PIN). The shop that sold cheap CDs, videos and a few books has closed down, but I was pleasantly surpised by the cost of things at HMV; I think I’m going to be buying a fair amount of stuff from there. In St Helens’ only bookshop (a small independent one, at that) I found the new Steven Erikson book and the latest installment of the Dune sequence (no The Da Da De Da Da Code, though). There are plenty of English language films at the cinema (this being England and everything) – and the St Helens Cineworld is one of the cheapest I’ve been to. Use of the internet at the Central Library costs one pound fifty per half hour – not as good a deal as the 1,000-won-an-hour PC bang in Korea. (Plus, when I asked about it later, they told me I needed to register with the library and for that I needed two forms of ID: one with my signature and one with my address. Right now, I could produce the former, but not the latter.)

Nearly everyone’s been talking to me about the culture shock of returning home recently. I didn’t expect to experience any – I certainly didn’t when I went to Korea (although I did just start typing ‘came’ instead of ‘went’). My explanation is that, in a way, I’ve always suffered from culture shock – so now I’m no longer a stranger in a strange land: I’m a stranger in a familiar land. It is kind of nice to be back (as I type this, I’m just digesting a pasty from Sayers and a cup of tea from the Tesco cafe). (However, I was surprised to see that the St Helens McDonalds has turned black.)

Categories: Life

Review of The Valley of Horses by Jean M Auel

While the first book in the Earth’s Children series had its flaws, I nevertheless enjoyed it enough that I wanted to read more. The second book in the series recapitulates its predecessor’s flaws and, mostly, builds on its good points.

Ayla has been cast out from the Clan and has to find her way in the world, and eventually to the Others – others like her. The book follows her continuing story, but it also introduces a second protagonist, Jondalar. I didn’t like Jondalar’s parts of the story all that much. While Ayla is an easy character for me to empathise with, Jondalar is less so, and this exacerbates the problems with Auel’s writing. The flatness and the hyper-descriptiveness of the text can be put up with when Ayla is centre-page, but it they become wearying when we’re reading about the uberly manly Jondalar.

If the quality of the writing was all these books had to offer, they wouldn’t be worth reading. But what makes Earth’s Children so interesting is the insights into prehistoric life and, more importantly, the emotional impact of some aspects of the story. The first half of the novel was tedious for me, but once it got going, I found Ayla’s struggles and successes, despair and joy to be often quite moving. The last few pages were also a bit dull for simply being too happy.

So having been initially disappointed by The Valley of Horses, in the end I was reasonably satisfied with it, and will probably read the next book, The Mammoth Hunters.

Categories: Literature, Reviews

The longest Tuesday ever

Well, well. This is the first real use I’ve put my new laptop to: writing this post.

As mentioned previously, I spent the whole of last night packing and ended up with a very heavy suitcase, a somewhat heavy backpack and a reasonably weighty laptop case containing two computers. At about 9:15 this morning, my director’s husband came by to pick me up. He didn’t take me to the airport, but just as far as Ansan bus station. I was happy about that – at least on the bus I could relax a bit. He also paid for my bus ticket.

The journey took about two hours and somehow it brought on mild melancholy. The sun was shining, the sky was blue; where available, the foliage was bright green. I feel like my leaving Korea has been something of a non-event I haven’t seen any of my colleagues – the ones I talk to to to any degree – since Friday. The game on Saturday was a pleasant episode, but it brought no sense of conclusion. Also, perhaps mainly, I’m aware that I’m leaving the mediocrity of Korea for the mediocrity of Britain – northern England, to be specific.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that I don’t really want to spend too much time here in Britain just letting life go by. I have an urge to do some random travelling before I finally head to India. For instance, for some reason, I wouldn’t mind visiting Edinburgh. Whatever I do, I certainly need to work out a schedule for visiting friends. But that’s all in the future – let’s go back to the recent past.

I got to Incheon Airport and walked into the terminal, backpack on my back, laptop case in hand and suitcase trundling to the side and a little behind me. When I got to the check-in desk one of my fears was realised: I was over the luggage weight limit – 11 kilograms over, actually. To check both my suitcase and back pack in would have cost me something like 200, or was it 300 euros. I had with me about 80,000 won. Fortunately, they allowed me to take the backpack on board as hand luggage (or should that be shoulder luggage?). It’s been such fun carrying it around, but I suppose it gives me a flavour of what travelling round India with it would be like. In the heat. And the humidity.

The flight was pretty uneventful. We had a couple of meals, several drinks and an ice cream. The take off and the occasional judders of turbulence, made me a little nervous. In that situation I think you’d have to have either heroic mental discipline or a complete lack of imagination not to be victim of certain unpleasant thoughts. But while the inevitable worry was not so nice, the novelty of the situation – the novelty of the worry itself – was strangely pleasuarble.

One thing that distinguished this flight with the one I made from Amsterdam to Korea last year, was that we were flying with the sun. It was daylight the whole time today, whereas a year ago, much of the flight was nocturnal. The upshot of this, of course, is that today has gained seven hours. The flight was eleven hours, but we left at about 13:35 and arrived at 17:40.

Now I’m sitting in Schiphol Airport waiting for my next flight, this one to Manchester. Once there, I’m not really sure what I’m going to do. I’m tempted to try and get to St Helens tonight; I don’t particularly want to spend fifty pounds or more on a hotel room and still have to make the journey to the ancestral pile (pile of what, don’t ask) tomorrow. I am pretty tired, though.

(The longest Tuesday was 32 hours long, by the way.)

Categories: Life

T minus 7 hours, and counting

27 August 2007 4 comments

As I begin writing this post it’s twenty-five to seven on Tuesday the twenty-eighth of August 2007. My flight back to Britain (via Amsterdam, once again) is at 1335 hours. I’ve spent the whole night packing, and I’m actually almost finished.

Let’s go back to Friday.

There’s one humorous incident that I’d like to share from my last class on my last day at the hagwon. I’d been playing Scrabble with various classes that day – and being observed by a new colleague. This final class has been one of my favourites since I started taking it all too recently. Although they’re middle school students, the kids in the class have a bit of personality and a good sense of humour. One boy, in particular – Brian – is quite talkative and keeps – I should say, kept poking fun at me. He’d consult his electronic dictionary and say things like ‘You are childish’ or ‘You fret me.’ Anyway; towards the end of our game of Scrabble (boy versus girls, with me on the girls’ side and Joe Teacher on the boys’), Brian lay down tiles to spell ‘FUQU’ and said, ‘Teacher, “fuck you”.’ My reply was, ‘That’s not how you spell “fuck you”.’ (Actually, the ‘Q’ in ‘FUQU’ was provided by the word ‘QUIZ’, which I’d laid just beforehand (it was the one time when I put a word down personally, rather than just giving advice) on a triple word score square for 66 points. The girls won, of course.)

Saturday was a pretty good day – up to a point. Korean class went well and Paul and I left early to go to the France-Japan game in the U-17 World Cu; along the way we picked up a couple of friends of Paul’s and Peter from my roleplaying group. The journey was long, but it turned out to have been worth it. I’m used to watching football on TV and not at all used to watching it live. In some way, when the match started, it didn’t quite make sense to me – I wanted the contextualisation provided by commentary: who the players are, where the teams stand in the group and so on. But I warmed to it. Naturally, or strangely, depending on your view of such things, I rooted for the French – and they won, 2-1. They did go behind at the end of the first half, if I recall correctly, to a ridiculous (in a good sense) chip from the halfway line.

Peter headed off straight after the game had finished and the rest of us went to eat. Which might have been a mistake. Goyang Public Stadium is located near Daehwa station right at the end of Line 3 (the orange one), and it took a long while to get there. As we travelled back, I had an inking that the subway would close before I could get home – and so it happened. I exited the metro system at Sadang and set off walking. Not towards Ansan, of course, that would have been silly – but towards Gangnam … which was also kind of silly. After much walking and some brief sojourns at the bus terminal, McDonalds and a bus stop, I eventually got on the first subway train of Sunday morning. And that makes it three Saturday nights in a row I’ve spent in Seoul (you might call it a hattrick, but you probably wouldn’t). Next Saturday is highly unlikely to follow suit.

On Saturday I’d been invited to partake of some birthday bungee jumping the following day, and I was inclined to accept. When it came down to it, a late lie-in and things to do precluded it. (Interestingly, over this last night I watched a couple of editions of Survive This. One of the stories retold and analysed was of a guy who had been throttled by a bungee cord. The footage was bizarre and striking – it looked both natural and unnatural (a bit like 9/11 footage): on the jumper’s first bounce, the cord formed a loop that slipped over his neck just as he began to fall again. The pressure on his neck arteries made him pass out and he stopped breathing; fortunately for him, he survived. Hence the tale’s inclusion in a programme called Survive This.)

Instead of risking my life, I went to Yongsan to pick up me new laptop, which was apparently waiting for me. Except it wasn’t. Naturally. After much miscommuncation, the I was talking to – wait, no: the man who was talking to me in Korean rang my colleague Gina and explained to her what the problem was, and she then explained it to me. They’d forgotten to pick the machine up on Saturday, and I would now have to wait until Monday. Fantastic. I went back to the subway and while I was on the platform I got a call from the Korean guy. I told him to call Gina and she rang back to tell me he had something for me; it sounded like a compensatory freebie.

So I headed back up to the Toshiba/Fujitsu stand and he went away for a good fifteen minutes or so … and came back with my computer. I was confused and disheartened to discover that it didn’t come with the extra battery I had tried tomake clear I wanted the last time I was there. After some more talking to Gina and mental umming and ahhing I decided I might as well take it and handed over my hard earned cash. The laptop has Korean-language Windows Vista on it, and I haven’t really had time to do much with it yet. I’m quite happy with it, though – it seems quite swish, and it’s definitely very light.

With my new laptop slung over my shoulder and my previously shoulder-slung bag now being hand-carried I headed off to Insadong to do some souvenir and gift shopping. The following day I went into the hagwon early to see about my money; I was told to come back at C3pm. Except without the Star Wars pun. So I went to Insadong again to continue my shopping. With a new clutch of prizes, I returned to Ansan and lo and behold – there was an additional three and a half million won in my bank account.

At the hagwon, the director (speaking Korean) and the head teacher (speaking English) explained that money had been deducted from my final month’s salary for cleaning and repairs (referring to the mould that had grown behind my wardrobe), which seemed fair enough. I also lost money because the cable and internet package I’d been bought had been for three years; ending it early incurred a charge. Apparently, it was still cheaper than getting a one year contract. I’m also to be given a lift to the airport. They were both pleasant; I said kamsa hamnida and shook their hands, but I wasn’t really in the mood to even try to reciprocate much.

I went to the bank where my account is held (directly beneath the hagwon) and closed my account. Then I took my millions to the other bank where we all send our money overseas (in a beautiful pea-green boat) and did just that. Except with out the bizarre nursery phyme reference. After that it was – wait for it – back to Insadong to conclude my knick-knack purchasing. There were one or two other things I would have liked to have got, but I bought something for just about everyone.

Then it was back home to pack – which has been loads o’ fun. I had expected to get everthing into my suitcase, and have my new laptop as hand luggage. That hasn’t panned out. I now have my suitcase and my backpack full o’ stuff (I’m leaving plenty o’ clothes behind, too), and I reckon I’ll be putting both of my laptops into the one bag (along with a couple o’ books) to take onboard.

Wow – just writing that word – ‘onboard’ – gave me butterflies. I’ve been pretty unemotional about the prospect of returning home, but it’s been nervous energy that’s kept me wide awake all night and … well, I’m nervous, I suppose. I’ll be OK – there are plenty of toilets at the airport, after all. Tonight and tomorrow could be tricky – my extra baggage is going to make travel from Manchester to St Helens even more of a chore. If you haven’t heard from me by Thursday, please send out search parties.

More offensive charm

This is from last Friday’s edition of Armando Iannucci’s Charm Offensive, in a section about apologies from the BBC:

Can I just say, though, that the BBC – I mean, the pressure is on, now, for the BBC not to offend. And for example, just to give you an instance of how it’s affected us, last week we talked about dangerous pastimes like tombstoning, which is when people throw themselves off a cliff. And we came up with other dangerous pastimes like train-punching, and tramp-lancing. And there was a sequence where we went on to talk about mosque-hopping, and terrorist-shaving; and that was cut for fear it would offend Muslims. And, in fact, could I point out now that the only reason I mention those jokes now was that I didn’t want to imply that all Muslims are so hyper-sensitive that they get easily offended by any joke about them – though if they are, then I apologise. Although I realise now that by apologising so readily I’m implying that I’m scared of what will happen to me if I offend … which in itself is a very offensive assumption to make, so again I apologise – though if that offends you, I don’t.

Wait a minute, can we just play some music?

[Some light jazz begins to play, while beneath it, whispering can be heard.]

OK – we’ve had an editorial discussion and from now on we’re only going to make jokes about Quakers. Because we know they won’t fight back. So, anyone got any good Quaker gags?

Quaker walks into a bar. Ooh, I’m scared. Not… The porridge jockey.

There’s an Englishman, an Irishman and a Quaker, and the Quaker says, ‘It’s nice to get on, isn’t it?’

How many Quakers does it take to change a candle?

Categories: Humour, Quotations

I’d get rid of performance poetry – because if it isn’t good enough to write down, shut up

24 August 2007 2 comments

Armando Iannucci on the topic of ‘If you could lose an art, which one would you want to lose?’ Armando Iannucci’s Charm Offensive, Radio 4.

Categories: Humour, Quotations