Am Bratach No. 245
March 2012

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Life in Korea
by Graeme Mackay

Sometimes I wonder if I have fallen into a deep sleep, the kind normally associated through the magic of Walt Disney. I don’t remember touching a spinning wheel or eating a poisonous apple but for some reason I feel like my experience of living in the land of the morning calm has been too good to be true. Can I really have lived in South East Asia for twelve months now? Did I really wander through the temples of the Taj Mahal, set foot in China, party through New Year in Bangkok, teach English as a foreign language and witness the death of Kim Jong Il while living in South Korea? I know that time waits for no man but if it did I have to say that South Korea wouldn’t be the worst place to be stuck.

While standing in line, waiting to pay for my groceries, I began to reminisce about my time here and the things I would miss. No longer will I be a millionaire (something I have become quite accustomed to!), my days of teaching six smart and witty little monsters are numbered and my days of belting out Queen Classics in the Karaoke rooms have all but ceased. Just then, somewhere between my thoughts of fame and fortune, an Adjuma (the word for an old Korean woman) aggressively pushed me out of the way and jumped the queue — well — you can only imagine the language I was wanting to use but of course with inadequate skills in Hangul (the Korean language) I bit my lip and started to think of all the things I won’t miss!

For starters grumpy old Adjumas thinking that being old constitutes as the right to be first for everything, and be rude with it — well it doesn’t! I won’t miss watching or hearing people spitting — it’s no wonder that Koreans remove their shoes before entering restaurants, offices and homes. I won’t miss the local beer — the two main Korean beers are called Hite and Cass and if you add an S to the first one and drop the C from the other, it pretty much sums up how I feel about them! I will not miss Kimchi — a delicacy of spiced fermented cabbage leaves served with every meal which I’ve never really taken too. I will not miss being walked into by Koreans glued to their smart phones, and no longer will I have to avoid cyclists and motorbikes on the pavements. I will not miss young couples dressing the same — I can only imagine with such a homogenous race they dress the same so that it’s easier to work out who is dating who! Finally I will not miss young Korean women and their incessant whining — it’s a special whine that is distinctive to this part of Asia, a noise I can only describe somewhere between the skirl of tuning bagpipes and the opening of a creaking door!

On a personal note I still find it impressive that I have made it through a year in this foreign land with very few Hangul phrases, generally if I am not acting out charades to bewildered looking Koreans I tend to just agree to whatever they have asked. I am however getting concerned to what I may have agreed too. I keep thinking that I might return home and realise that I have accidently sold my parents as servants to a family in Korea — oh well, it would give me another reason to come back and visit!

I am not ruling out the possibility of coming back to teach in Korea. However it is clearly visible that the job market for native English speakers is changing. My school, Kid’s College (I am yet to meet this person called Kid!), have just announced that they are to close after only two years in business — reason being a lack of prospective students signing up for the new teaching term in March. A similar story is unfolding across the Korean private school system and many believe it is to do with recent changes made through the Board of Education. They have announced that they will pay the parents of six-year-old children the equivalent of £100 a month if they send their child to a public Kindergarten School. Here they will learn both Hangul and English, but the English will be taught by non-native speakers. The goal through this incentive is to have the majority of 2013’s new Elementary intake educated to the same level. Currently there is a widening gap between those who opt for Public Kindergarten and those who pay for Private Kindergarten. The other major change by the Board of Education is a commitment to eradicate all native English speakers from Middle Schools and High Schools over the next five years. Like our own local authority they are looking for ways to save money during this current economic downturn. However, this comes at a cost, namely to the thousands of jobs currently held by native English speakers in Korea.

I hope you have enjoyed following my trials and tribulations during my time living in South East Asia. I’m sure a handful of you are patiently waiting to put your recently acquired knowledge on South Korea to good use at a quiz night! I am sad to leave this corner of the world but at the same time I am looking forward to what comes next. Adventure is always fun, but you can’t help but miss home from time to time. I am returning to Scotland for most of March before heading out for a month long trip to the USA. If all goes well, my next Bratach instalment will come to you from the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Soraidh slàn leat a Choirea a Deas.

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