Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Students

I have taught in Korea for approximately two and a half years now, and have taught at three different schools; two academies and I am currently teaching at an all boys High School.  The students are generally fantastic, they are respectful, obedient, and hard working (if you know what buttons to push), but what I like most of all is their character.  With all the study they have to do, you can't help but feel for the poor little mites.  For example, in my high school (ages 16-18) they start their day at 8am and finish at 10-11pm at night, a fourteen hour plus day at school!  In middle and elementary schools the day is not so long, but parents make up for this by sending their children to private after school academies called 'Hagwons'.  Most students study at least a couple of hours every day after school in these academies with homework on top of this as well.  Some students, however, can go to up to four different academies after school, and may possibly do Taekwondo or Hapkido also (Korean martial arts).  The different subjects they study after school are usually comprised of, English, Maths, Computer studies, Science, and maybe Chinese writing.  These private academies are big business in Korea, and although there may be a possibility in the future of Native English teachers being removed from the public school curriculum, the private schools will be ready to accept foreign teachers for many years to come.

With all this in mind, I try very hard to understand the students' workloads and attitude to my class and be entertaining, and friendly in my classes.  The kids are so nice that behaviour management strategies are not all that necessary anyway.  Being quite open and relaxed does bring a wonderful advantage, and that is that the students are not scared of talking to you or having fun.  This sometimes does not work in my favour but it keeps my job interesting at least.  I have a theory about teaching English in South Korea, with such tired students, and it's this; 'If I find it interesting and funny, they will too.'  This also helps me enjoy teaching and, after all, me having a good time is by far the most important thing.  Most schools in Korea allow you incredible flexibility when you teach, mainly because they don't have a clue what you are saying or how to tell you to stop doing something, they also don't really think of the native teacher's lessons as important.  So we can all get creative and let rip with some innovative, fun, and sometimes bizarre lesson plans.  Activities in my lessons include 'What could you do with it, what did Bear Grylls do with it?'  'What happens next' with Family Guy, 'who would win in a fight and why' with Discovery animal face-off (this is pretty stupid but it's funny that way), and 'a day on vacation with Karl Pilkington'.  I have recently started playing some of my favourite music in lessons and forming activities around that too (I haven't figured out a way to include cricket in my lessons yet, but I will eventually).  I try to make lessons around a theme that I am interested in like; prejudice, science, sport, violence, philosophy, history, travel, etc.  These subjects are quite deep and my students level is not great but there are ways round these problems.  Basically I am trying to give the students the idea that my classes are worth waking up for.  The students have got a great character, if you can achieve the seemingly impossible and wake them up.  They usually respond with some quite funny stuff.  Here are some examples:

The Stereotypes Class

Have to admit I didn't see this one coming, but should of.  I was teaching at the all boys high school and the class was on stereotypes and started amusingly, but innocently enough on country stereotypes, like the English being famously shy with women and a bunch of hooligans, Germans are serious, that sort of thing.  They enjoyed saying that the Japanese are stupid, smelly and look like monkeys.  The conversation then went on to racial stereotypes, however, and that is where all innocence was lost.  Starting with black people the first answer was;

Students: Big.
Me: Yes, they are often perceived as being bigger and stronger (obviously in slightly simpler English).
Students: No, big!! (Pointing to their crotches)
Me: (slightly taken aback) Well maybe, erm, don't know, err....

The next race was white people.

Students: Big.  But black bigger.
Me: Oh god, sigh.....

And finally Asian.

Students: Small.
Me: You mean in height?
Students: No, small penis.
Me: Well, maybe, I don't know, perhaps...

The funny thing is that indeed this is the stereotype of the racial size of the male reproductive organ, and they were of course absolutely right.  Like a red rag to a bull, and seeing me a little flustered the students were not about to let this one go.

Student: Teacher I am big, see..  (feigning to undo his belt and take down his trousers).
Me: No, no, stop that....
Student: You don't believe me!?  Teacher you and me penis battle!!!  Penis battle!!!
Me: (With head in hands) What have I done?

The same student then proceeded to show me what a penis battle was, fortunately with his trousers on, with a fellow student as they thrusted their pelvises together in an energetic and fervent manor.

The Epic Arm Wrestle

While doing a class on comparatives (bigger, prettier, more comfortable, etc) I asked for a free thinking answer and one student came up with the response of, 'I am stronger than you, teacher.'  I obviously responded with disdain, as no student could possibly be stronger than me.  He then reacted by challenging me to an arm wrestling contest.  Not one to back down, and with a history of stunning arm wrestling victories back home in England, I took up his challenge at the end of the lesson.  As he rolled up his sleeves I could tell that I had made a grave mistake, when he produced the most freakishly huge forearms I had ever seen on anyone, let alone a 17 year-old student.  During the match he managed to stay cool in the face, not showing any strain (Koreans never seem to go red).  I on the other hand was pulling sex faces left, right, and centre, and was going horribly red.  Needless to say I wasn't going to lose against a big-headed little upstart student, so I pulled out the win, but was heavily flustered at the finish of the rather long, epic battle.  I asked his classmates how he was so strong and they responded that he didn't go to the gym, but his father was a Korea strongman champion and his mother was a Judo champion.  It made me feel a little better knowing that he wasn't your average Korean boy, but a freak of nature conceived by parents with almost god-like strength.

The Taekwondo Kid

This was an eleven year old student from my first academy.  Don't ask me how we managed to get on to the topic of my abs of steel, but we did somehow.  After (semi-jokingly) saying that I had a six pack, the students asked me to show it, which obviously as a non-pervert I didn't do.  So to prove myself I invited the boy who always came to class wearing a Taekwondo uniform to punch me in the stomach to test that it was fairly solid.  There was some logic behind this as he looked pretty small and I wanted to see if his instructors taught him how to throw a good punch.  I assumed he would give a good technical, but not all that powerful punch, like when you see people practicing martial arts on the TV.  I was confident that this boy couldn't hurt me so I braced myself.  Doubts began to creep into my mind as he took about 5 or 6 paces back with a rather determined look on his face.  Anyway, he took a run up and launched into a almighty punch landing perfectly in my midriff.  I didn't show any pain, but my goodness it hurt and the other students seemed genuinely concerned.  It wasn't that it took the wind out of me but his hand was so small it was almost like the point of a knife, which focused the force into a small space.  The area was tender and bruised for a week.

The Fart and Kim Jong Un

No matter how much of an upper class, high brow person you think you are, farting is funny and especially when executed with precision timing.

While doing a popular quiz activity in my class (Jeopardy) the situation was tense, with a $500 question on the line.  The bell was about to go for the end of the lesson (which is actually a part of a song, piece of guitar music, etc), the question was difficult and the class was in a silent pause, amid a fair amount of chaos beforehand, of about 10 seconds.  Just as one of the boys in a team was about to open his mouth his team mate let out a classically sounding trump.  Perfect timing, and it sounded like it came from the smallest, most innocent and quiet looking boy in the class.  The look of shock and horror on his face when the whole class and myself included were staring at him was golden, and he continued to profess his innocence in flailing arm actions rather and Korean words.  It all fell on deaf ears, however, as we were all laughing too much.  But there was time for one more question for the next team, an easy $100 question, 'Who is this?' with a picture of Kim Jong Un on the TV screen.  The general sniggering turned into a roar of laughter, which I thought was just because the picture was a little funny and Kim Jong Un looks a little chubby and funny anyway.  However, I turned and looked at the quiet, innocent boy who was embarrassed a little earlier and realised that he was the spitting image of North Korea's new leader, they could have been brothers.  Poor kid, a bit of a double whammy, but it was all in good fun, and he did see the funny side (eventually).

To be honest teaching is funny every day, sometimes I have the odd student that irritates me but generally they are all a fantastic bunch.  In the high school, maybe because of the amount of time they spend with each other at school, there is a great sense of camaraderie and most students form many close friendships in their classes and school (note that it is only within their year, though, because of the respect culture).  Usually when I walk into class there is any number of things going on.  Recently there has been a fascination with arm-wrestling and general tests of strength, and it is possible to see at least 5 or 6 students doing this in the break between classes.  At least a couple of students are always having a wrestling match, some are slapping each other in the face, a few are shuffling around in their slippers creating a static electrical charge and touching people's faces shocking them as they shuffle past, some are trying to put things in their friends ears and up their noses while they are trying to sleep, and others are just sitting around in their underpants, because they couldn't be bothered to put their trousers on after football at lunchtime.  The other day I walked in and six students were bent over and joined together like a caterpillar, when one student took a running jump seeing how many he could hurdle.  How he didn't break one students back, in particular, I will never know.  They are pretty much the most typical lads you can imagine, dirty, cut and bruised, and wrestling in their underwear, what could be more normal.  Except for one peculiar quirk of Korean culture.  In England it is considered weird and a little gay to even accidently touch your friends hand or leg, not in Korea, where you can see some strange sites.  It is common to see 17 year-old boys holding hands as they walk down packed corridors, students sitting on each others laps with their arms round each other watching a music video on their smart phones, or even massaging each other (non-sexually I might add) during class.  To my eyes it couldn't look more gay.  Not that I believe there is actually anything wrong with being gay, but most people still have a prejudice against it, so any show or even  hint of gay behaviour in public is met with derision.  My students are not gay, and even if they were the prejudice against gay people is much stronger in Korea than it is even back home in England, so they would never want to show it or admit to it.  The touchy feely behaviour is just not seen that way here though, and that is probably a good thing.  Perhaps it is not my students that are behaving strangely but that it is Western culture's way of looking at this behaviour that is strange and bizarre.

Inevitably, in an all boys school with the odd mean-spirited boy, I have a few issues with behaviour but on these rare occasions dealing with it is mightily easy.  One such occasion happened a couple of weeks ago.  After the a fore-mentioned stereotypes class, where there was much talk about penises, which although was uncomfortable, I had to admit was funny, some students started to step a little too far over the teacher-student line of respect and I was starting to get a little upset.  So I told them that I am not feeling a good amount of respect from the class and that I wasn't happy with how they were speaking to me.  This immediately rectified their behaviour and they looked visibly upset with themselves.  The next week in the same class when one student said something that was approaching being disrespectful, a student next to him punched him in the arm and gave him a good telling off, which was amusing and in fact very sweet.  If I had used the same tactic in a school in England, saying that I was upset with them, I would have been seen as weak, and might as well have thrown myself to the lions.

I think my personality resonates quite well with older students and I get on well with them, but the students really are great.  It is fantastic to work with them and I also feel sorry for them that their culture lets them down and asks far to much of them when it comes to studying and exams.  If only they gave them a bit more free time to have fun and be creative, they could accomplish so much more.  That is why I think I need to earn their respect with hard work to produce interesting lessons, as much as I demand their respect and attention in my classes.  Respect always goes both ways, and this doesn't always happen in Korea, and usually just goes to the elder, the teacher, or the person in the highest position.  A little more respect for students lives is what is needed here.  There is a statistic that the suicide rate for students in Korea is the highest in the world, I would hate to think that these statistics could include one of my students in the future.  They don't seem to be miserable in my class, and I hope I never contribute towards their stress.

This video gives a pretty fair reflection of what my students are like, sleepy one minute, funny the next.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Korean Family

In case you hadn't been reading my previous blogs, you might not know that I am an Englishman that is currently living in Korea and married to a Korean woman.  This has given me first hand experience of a fairly typical Korean family.  This is an experience that has not always been plain sailing and is interesting because the nature of the family here in Korea is completely different to that in Western countries, and a million miles away from that of my own.

To give you some idea of the differences I will need to briefly tell you about my own family in England.  My own family is a little broken up.  My parents are divorced and I have two half sisters and a half brother.  I have five (I think) half nephews that I have never met, and two others that I see now and then, and I rather ashamedly admit, I have not much interest in, maybe I will have more interest when they are older, as I am not generally a fan of young children.  It sounds horrible, but that is just my family.  We are all so self-reliant that it seems as though there is not much closeness.  Of course this is not the case and I love my family as much as other people love theirs (the core of it anyway).  I can quite happily go six months without calling my mother or father from Korea, and if I don't they are not seemingly that concerned either.  We don't really worry about each other.  I also have Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins that I haven't seen in many, many years.  I am not saying that this is typical of all Western families, but I am guessing it is not all that unusual either.

Contrast this with my wife's family.  All relatives meet each other fairly regularly and even distant relatives meet up at least once a year.  Before I was married to my wife she was on a strict curfew of about midnight until she had to go home.  This was often trimmed down to about 7 o'clock when she was with me (she was about 22 at the time).  Indeed it was not until our relationship was about 8 or 9 months in that her father knew about us at all.  He just assumed that she was out with her friends all the time.  She was not ever allowed to stay the night at my place even when he did eventually know, and her mother didn't allow it before then.  This really is only culturally permissable when the couple is married.  They usually pestered their daughter with phone calls all the time, and worried about her incessantly.  All this was before I had ever really met them.  When I eventually did meet them (under the guise of a boyfriend and not just a friend), the reception was frosty at best.  I can remember our first dinner.  Her father did not speak to me apart from asking why my parents were divorced and how he thought that this behaviour was bad and ran in families.  He did not walk with me to and from the restaurant, and looked thoroughly pissed off the whole time.  We then came back to their house where he walked straight into his bedroom closed the door and started watching the TV.  I wasn't intimidated actually, I was angry.  I thought that he was being extremely arrogant and rude, (and I was supposed to be bowing to him) and my wife and I had a little argument about this afterwards.  She told me to be patient, and that Korean parents usually never like their daughters boyfriends and will 'test' them for a bit.  This continued for a couple of months until my wife fell into a comatosed state after drinking too much at a staff dinner one night.  I ended up carrying her to her parents house, and after my wife's friends told her father that I had come from my own night out with friends to rescue her, he seemed a lot happier with me. 

Although the cultural problems and misunderstandings were numerous at this stage in our relationship, I can only remember one situation that caused a major argument.  One of my wife's uncles was down in our city for the weekend, and I met them after work one night.  Unfortunately, I missed the dinner because of work, but they wanted to talk with me so we went to a bar for one drink.  I was told by my wife that they liked me and wanted to invite me for dinner the next day.  Great, I thought.  The next day, just before going out, my wife informed me that they wanted me to pay for dinner.  This would have been a bit irritating if there were 2 or 3 people, but there were 10 people!  I knew them a day, they invited me for dinner, and they wanted me to pay (I am also a famously tight person).  'A bit f#%^ing cheeky!' I thought.  And I said as much to my wife.  She understood but said that she would pay instead and say that it was me that paid, which I was even less happy with.  It was my Western principle of fairness against Korean culture and I was not budging an inch.  I refused the invitation and didn't go, but then was pestered for the rest of the night by her cousin calling.  After much arguing I was persuaded out by my wife to just have some drinks and some pizza with her cousin and her boyfriend.  Her cousin tried to say that it was a joke (about them asking for me to pay), which was obviously not true, and if it was a joke, maybe be the worst one ever recorded.  She then preceeded to pay for everything in secret, which made me feel terribly guilty and that all I cared about was the money.  It doesn't help that I can't stand her cousin, as she maybe the least sincere person I have ever met.

A few cultural problems later and after a fairly short period of time, my wife and I decided to get married, after just 10 months.  Some might think that this decision was too fast (and I'd be among them at the time).  But the situation made this the only option if we really wanted to be together.  At the time I had a really bad job and was having a hard time in Korea and desperately wanted to go home.  The problem was that I was deeply in love with my wife, I couldn't stay in Korea but I didn't want to leave her.  We had an idea to go to England but she couldn't stay unless we married, so we married.  It seems an unromantic reason, and it was a British Embassy marriage, no ceremony, just a form signing and a stamp in Seoul.  It seems crazy what we did, but it's nearly two years later now and we are very happy together.  We plan on having a proper marriage ceremony at some stage, though.  I suppose some might think it all stupid and not how they want to get married, but it was just pure love, not a marriage of convenience, not to make other people happy, not for money and not for fear of loneliness or insecurity.  We just loved each other and did not want to be apart.  Seems like the best reason to get married to me. 

All of this was achieved with the semi-knowledge of her parents, who were a little in denial about it all.  We told them of our plans to go to England and they reluctantly agreed to it all, as they had no choice (my wife would have gone anyway).  Not being a family man myself, I never really feel like part of their family and never really dreamed they would see me as part of theirs, as an outsider and a foreigner.  To their credit though, this really is not how they think.  Once they had accepted the idea, I was made to feel part of their family, sometimes nicely so, and sometimes uncomfortably so.  There was one moment that I clearly came to realise that I had a Korean family and that was when we had our picture taken together before we left for England.  I thought they wanted a little picture on the mantlepiece of us all, which is understandable.  The next time I entered their house, however, I was greeted by an almost person-sized picture on the wall in the middle of the room with me and her immediate family in it.  It was a little overwhelming, in a scary way, for a person with a very different kind of family.  I think this was the moment that it hit home just what I was getting myself in for.

It was time to go to England, which in retrospect was a poorly planned move at the time.  A couple of weeks before, I saw her family frequently as they wanted to see us both a little more before we went.  I have to admit to being a bit of a selfish man and not really enjoying spending a lot of time with any of my own family, let alone a family from a different culture and language.  It's not that I don't like family but, a couple of hours over dinner is about all I can handle before boredom sets in.  In these weeks before I left I would be subjected to their company all day, and it was getting tiring.  I don't think I would be the first to feel extreme tiredness when spending the whole day listening and speaking in a language that is not my own.  Again 2 hours is alright but all day is not, and I was never very good at hiding my boredom and tiredness (much to my wife's annoyance).  I still have days like this with my Korean family, I am dreading Chuseok this year for this very reason.

It sounds as though I really dislike my Korean family, but I don't, it is just my upbringing and culture that makes me unable to tolerate what they see as normal family behaviour.  In fact they are often very sweet to me, and have welcomed me into their family with amazing warmth.  I am slightly ashamed to say that I just cannot reciprocate this warmth, there is a wall in my personality for things like that, but it is appreciated nonetheless.  My mother in-law is especially sweet, and regularly makes food for me when I come to their house and cooks food and puts it in our fridge in my house too (she cooks it extra spicy too, which is great).  I genuinely feel that if I had any problem at all, my Korean family would jump through hoops to help me and not just because I am married to their daugther, but because I am part of the family now.  That is a nice feeling and they show great affection towards me despite the fact that I don't show great affection towards them.  I am also ashamed of the fact that I have made rather a piddling amount of progress in learning the Korean language, I wish I could speak to them a lot more.

There are some annoyances, however, which particularly grate on me and leave me thinking that it is just as well that I don't speak Korean very well.  My mouth might just get me into trouble.  You see, as sweet as my parents in-law are, highly enlightened they are not.  This is not their fault, they just have that old-style way of Korean thinking, mired in tradition and inflexibility to new ideas.  The amount of advice they try to give to my wife and I is staggering and I don't agree with any of it.  It is all fossilised rubbish, that irritates me to listen to.  Anyone that knows me would know that I enjoy a good argument, on almost any topic.  I don't argue to upset people and generally I stay pretty unemotional, but I have been known to upset people by simply having a rather blunt and aloof different opinion.  If I argued with my parents in-law in my accustomed style, it would upset them and I am sure if they really knew what I thought on a myriad of different subjects they would probably string me up by my testicles, or at least call for a divorce.  So maybe my poor Korean speaking is a blessing in disguise, because I don't think I could resist the urge to argue with them, if I could, and arguing with the in-laws is just not done in Korea (I think this fact would make me want to argue even more).

If a week went by in England without my wife calling her parents, they would be upset.  But phone calls via skype were usually a daily rather than a weekly occurance, a far cry from my dialogue with my family.  I was quite relieved to not be spending so much time with them, but also a little guilty that when they called I could speak only a little to them before passing them over to my wife.  The phone calls were often about how much they were missing their daugther and about how difficult things were at home and it usually made my wife feel guilty about leaving them.  Her parents were therefore delighted to hear that we would be coming back to Korea after just one year in England. 

They were clearly happy to have ther daughter back but also to see me.  Again I stress that I really don't do anything for them or show them any affection at all, but they show much affection for me, it is almost as unconditional as my own family (I know, I am shit aren't I!?).  I have now been back in Korea for about six months and their treatment of me remains unchanged.  However, their treatment of my wife does perplex me a little sometimes.  They smother her with calls and constantly want to spend time with her, which hasn't changed from before and I understand this as them being normal parents and from a culture where family is of greater importance.  It is not this behaviour, but it is what they say to her when she does see them that leaves me puzzled.  They are constantly pestering her to be a better wife for me, to cook for me and clean the house more, and to make a greater effort to be pretty for me, even when she is just sitting around at home.  Now, I have an easy job, get home earlier than my wife, and work far less hours.  Should I expect her to cook and clean for me when she gets home?  I think not.  I try to do most of the housework if I can (I have to admit to not being very good at cleaning) and this might come as strange news to some people but my wife (although being Asian) does not enjoy cooking or cleaning.  She also looks pretty and almost all of the time too (the exception is after a few bottles of soju), and she does make an effort most of the time.  I just can't understand her parents attitude.  Their attitude just makes my wife sick of spending time with them and answering their calls.  It is caused by over-worrying about her to the point of insanity.  I hope I won't be like that when I am parent, I am 99% sure I won't be.

I think I understand full well exactly what my parents in-law expect of me and most of these things I am not going to do.  I am not an especially good bearer of gifts, but this is a part of the culture in Korea.  Each time I go to their house I should bring them a gift.  I think I brought them a watermelon once.  Sons in-law are also expected to give their parents in-law money.  I have already made sure that my wife and her parents know that this is not going to happen either, unless I become filthy rich.  If they are in need of hospital treatment, however, of course I will help.  I am there for emergencies only.  If you think I sound like an ass-hole, I am not, I am nice, kind and friendly, but I do have principles that I like to keep.  If I am not going to give my own parents money when they are older, why should I give money to my in-laws?  I have also paid rent to my mother whilst growing up which is not done in Korean culture.  The parents usually pay for everything sometimes right up to the age of thirty.  I don't wish to treat them to regular gifts as I think it's unnecessary, a couple of times a year is fine.  When I have children I will teach them the same as my mother taught me, she said to me, 'We had you because we wanted you, it was for us, we don't expect anything in return when we are older.  It is our responsibility to be able to take care of ourselves when we are older or have the money for others to do so.'  This sort of attitude is one that would encourage me to be more helpful to my family in their old age, than if they were to expect me to help them, and to support them when they are older.  The plain fact is that I respect the way my mother thinks and acts far, far more than my in-laws think and act.  Many may say that this is cultural, and that I should have a more understanding attitude to this cultural difference, but I don't.  Children do not owe their parents a damn thing.  There is no debt to pay, like a unsigned student loan agreement.  Where Korean culture may have a better culture of family togetherness than ours, the attitude of the old towards the young, even when they are in their own family is horribly shallow and unhelpful.  There is a statement that rings through my head when I see and hear about how older people, fathers, mothers, and bosses expect to be treated by those younger than them in Korea and that is this; 'Respect, whatever your age, has to be earned and it certainly cannot be demanded.'  If respect is demanded you get none, and all you promote is a sense of duty and fear in those younger people that you are supposed to be caring for and love.

My Korean family are good caring people, and I hold them with very fond affection.  In fact, their caring goes beyond the normal.  It makes me think it is truly cultural, and when you look into the history of Confucianism, there are some explanations for it all.  Everyone in Korean culture has a duty and place to fit into.  I fit into their family and it is my in-laws duty to take good care of me and educate me, this explains a lot, and the education bit is probably what I could do without.  But they care so much it is touching.  However, there are so many differences between myself and them that a general understanding and empathy for each other will always be a difficult thing to come by.  I can fully appreciate the kindness they have showed me, but we really are like oil and water, we will never mix well.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

University Graduates Listen! - Teach in Korea.

I am now 31 years of age, and although I think I look and feel a lot younger, I do wonder just how great it would have been if I had come to Korea much earlier.  I contemplate just what a fantastic experience and opportunity it would have been for me when I had just left university.  Don't get me wrong, going to teach in Korea is a fantastic experience at any age and I would thoroughly recommend it, but my gosh would it have been useful to know about at 21.  This is my guide for graduates and anyone thinking of coming to Korea to teach.  I think that you can infer from what I have written, that I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to come.

There is a rather multi-faceted reason for me saying this, and I will break it up as follows;


There is a massive problem in the west at the moment with graduate unemployment.  There are a few reasons for this, which range from rather pointless degrees to just simply not enough jobs.  With this in mind I am amazed by the amount of friends I have that have never thought of teaching in Korea, Japan, China, or many other places around the world for that matter.  At 28 years of age my reasons for coming to Korea were to fund further study and to be employed, as jobs were becoming more difficult to come by.  Seems to me that times at the moment are even harder, and some reliable employment and experience would be a great idea.  It is easy to get a job in Korea, all you need is a degree (not even a good one), a clean bill of health, and not be a criminal.  If you tick all these boxes and can't find a decent job in your own country, what are you waiting for?  It is a guaranteed job and you really don't need to be amazing at it to keep it and even extend it if you fancy staying for longer than a year.  The only way of losing your job as an English teacher in Korea is if you do something considered criminal or if you want to go home.  The only responsibility is showing up for lessons.


In 2001, when I left university, I had a very small student loan of about £3000.  Not very much, but still enough to be annoying.  Some of my friends, however, were up at around £15 000 and are still paying this back.  Now student debt at the end of university is even higher.  It's a huge amount that most people will spend a large proportion of their life paying off.  For the average student upon leaving university, the money doesn't exactly come rolling in either, particularly in the current economic climate.  If you are lucky enough to find a job, the pay is not usually too spellbinding.  This is where Korea can save you.  I think it is very possible to save £8000 in a year teaching in Korea, maybe more.  You can comfortably live, go out to bars and restaurants, go travelling, and live the good life and still save about £6000 in one year.  So spend one year in Korea and that's already a significant chunk of your student loan paid, stay for two or three years and if your student loan is not too great, you might be able to pay off the whole lot.  If you're not interested in paying your student loan (or are lucky not to have one), many teachers have used the money for further study or even to travel the world or fund an adventure, small business, or other project.  For example, a good friend of mine used his money, saved teaching in Korea, to fund a bicycle trip home to England from Korea.  The trip took him about nine months and I think he still had some money left over!  So teaching overseas must be one of the most sure-fire ways of making money immediately after leaving university, and this money can be used to fund a myriad of different opportunities to suit the person.  Another good reason to come to Korea to teach!

The Experience

By this I don't just mean the experience of travelling to another country and experiencing a new culture, but also gaining valuable work experience.  This is especially relevant if you are planning a career in the teaching profession, but also the work experience that you can get by teaching in Korea, can help improve many things from public speaking, organisation, responsibility, communication, and confidence.  There is nothing like actually working to give you experience, this is something that many a university graduate is currently having trouble with in western countries.  'Everywhere is asking for experience, but I don't have it and I can't get a job to get the experience they require!'  This is a complaint that I commonly here in my country of birth.  Teaching in South Korea might not be a completely relevant position to your chosen career, but I guarantee that it is better than sitting on your backside without work.  The large wedge in your back pocket at the end of it all can also buy some relevant experience with volunteer work if need be also.  On top of the employment experience there really is a rich cultural experience to be had in a country that is about as far from ours in ways of thinking that there is in the civilised world.  Even teachers that have come to Korea, and it's all been too much for them and they have quit early or just hated their year here, I am sure have learnt so much about themselves and have broadened their minds further to the world in general.  I myself, out of the nearly two and a half years I have spent here so far, have not enjoyed much of it.  I had a terrible start to my time here, and spent most of my first nine months wanting to go home.  The following year I had the boss and job from hell, and hated much of that.  Only now am I happy and settled in a job that I really like, and have no other problems.  This is not the case for most teachers and I am sure they have a blast in there time here, right from day one.  Most of my problems were due to my own personality and a large chunk of bad luck, but even through all these problems Korea was a fantastic experience, and I have never learned as much about myself or life in general from any other experience in my life.  Period.  Without any other advantage to coming to Korea, the vast experience you can gain from coming here, or any other Far-Eastern country, is something worth the trip on it's own.

Meeting People

Perhaps I am not the best person to comment on this one, as I am poor at getting myself out there and socialising with people.  I hate drinking, bars, spending money, and coffee shops, which is a problem.  So I feel like I don't meet enough people in general, but I do have a few good friends that I have met in my time here from a number of different countries.  The point is that, in coming to Korea, you don't just meet Korean people but you can meet people from all over the English speaking world.  Sometimes I think it's easy to take for granted the fact I have gone out hiking for the day with an American, a Canadian, a South African, an Australian, a Scotsman and an Irish woman.  If you go to even a small city in Korea for a night out you can meet any number of different nationalities, all open to talking to you, because you are all in the same boat and doing the same job.  You will meet lots of Koreans too, the women are usually much more open to being friends with you than the men, but it is always an interesting and different experience when you are socialising with them.

Time for Reflection

One of the hardest things in life is to figure out exactly what you want to achieve.  What are your ambitions?  What career do you want?  On leaving university graduates may already know exactly what they want to do, but many don't.  A job for a year in Korea will not only give all the above benefits, but will also give you the time to reflect on things and come up with a plan of action.  There are very few worries in Korea, everything is easy, money is not a worry and accommodation and bills are zero hassle.  It may also provide time away from your own country to get some perspective.  The job also has few stresses and this all combined with the different ways of doing things you will see all around you will give you tremendous food for thought.


Although many students gain independence from their family through university itself, if graduates come to Korea after university they can get a true feeling of independence in a new and very real world.  This can teach self-reliance and strength of character.


As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the food and health situation in Korea is much better than in our own countries.  It is possible (with an open mind) to be introduced to healthier foods and living habits in Korea, which can last a lifetime.  I know my own personal eating habits have changed significantly since living in Korea, and almost entirely for the better.


After a significant time spent in a country it is possible to really understand their culture and if you are very good, their language too.  Far East culture and language is something of a mystery to most people in the west, but after your teaching experience in Korea, it won't be for you.  Things are not always rosy in Korea and for some people they can be just plain difficult.  But, if you can accept that difficult times will come and that you can learn as much if not more when times are hard, a huge wealth of knowledge and wisdom can be swept your way.

An Asian Travel HQ

Many of the people I have met in South Korea have used Korea as a base to be able to travel to other countries in Asia.  Many work for a couple of years in Korea and travel to many countries during their vacations.  (Note: if this is a priority reason for working in Korea you must work in a public school, private academies do not allow enough vacation).  Many teachers just jump from one country to the next teaching English (e.g. Thailand, Korea, Japan, and China).  I have to admit that this would have been an attractive option for me if I had not married a Korean woman.  However, what strikes many foreigners when they first come to Korea is just how many people stay for longer than a year.  I couldn't believe it when I first arrived, everyone I met had been in Korea for over 3 years, I really couldn't understand it.  Once I returned home for a year I did understand the reason, and that is that life really is good in Korea.  It is a nice life for many of the reasons I have already stated above.  I am sure most people plan on just one year, but so many (including myself), stay for much longer.

This is an awfully long list, and an honest one.  I can't promise that everyone will have a good time in Korea.  Indeed many people are very negative in their time spent here, the culture differences can be too much for some people.  But I think it is possible to promise a valuable experience and a learning experience, with a bonus of not being short of cash while you're at it.

There are some things that people shouldn't come to Korea for, however;

To meet a woman/find love

It is not unheard of for people to find love in Korea (I myself am an example), but it is certainly not common.  Relationships with Korean men or women can get very complicated.  Korean women are generally a little more conservative than in the west.  It took a friend of mine a few months for a kiss, and for some girls sex before marriage is a definite no no, not on religious grounds but on purely cultural grounds.  The men can have quite a chauvinistic attitude sometimes and this might be difficult to swallow for independent thinking western women.  If you get past all the possible dating pitfalls, then you have to meet the family, which I promise you is a daunting task in many Korean families.  Koreans have a natural cultural distrust of foreigners and many parents will not accept a foreigner into their families.  I myself was lucky, but it was certainly not all plain sailing.  There are also still some prejudices that exist in Korea about mixed race couples and you may find yourself open to some subtle abuse (outlined in a previous blog).  Korea is not South East Asia, and although you may find that they (usually women) may have a facination with you, (particularly if you are white) this in most cases will not turn into a date or relationship.  You will be called 'handsome' or 'pretty' more times than you will be able to remember (even if you are ugly), but I can assure you that this is unlikely to mean that it might be your lucky day.

To party hard and get drunk

Don't get me wrong you can certainly do this and many people do, but personally, I wish people that visit Korea would have a slightly better understanding of how their behaviour is perceived sometimes.  Excessive drinking and bad behaviour is a charge that is regularly levelled at at foreign teachers in Korea, as many people see westerners behaving particularly badly when drunk in the evenings.  The problem is especially prevalent in Seoul and bigger cities, but with the advent of more teachers in smaller cities and rural areas too, it is a problem that is spreading and Korean people really hate it and it tarnishes all of our reputations.  To give an example of one of the few nights that I have been out and had a drink this year.  One of my party decided to urinate outside the bar on the street, when the toilets were no more than 10 yards away, then proceeded to threaten some Korean passers-by who saw this and were upset.  The same man I later learned then urinated out of a 17th floor apartment onto the street below.  This stuff is not acceptable in any country but it is really unacceptable here, due to the cultural suspicion of foreigners in the first place.  Drink responsibly and party hard, but have some awareness of what you are doing.  Besides good tasting alcohol is rather expensive here anyway.

To run away from personal problems

If you are already in a negative frame of mind upon entering Korea, I can predict that you might have a few problems.  Living in Korea is not easy sometimes, and if you are in the wrong frame of mind, the cultural stuff can really blow your mind.  Many people get stuck in a negative mind-set, where it is difficult to enjoy yourself or learn anything.  If cultural issues are bothering you, you must (for the moment at least) accept them as just different and unchangable.  In our own countries we tend to think of issues of freedom and injustice as changable by anyone with passion and strong action.  In Korea you will change nothing and you will especially change nothing by being angry and upset, they just won't give you a 'foreigner' a second thought, and they rarely do to Koreans either.  You are going to have to accept it.  Don't just put up with everything, though, do voice displeasure and greivance, but don't get too hung up about it all.  Change will occur eventually, but recognise that it will only occur slowly, and maybe the change will be unrecognisable during your visit.  These cultural problems are rarely that much of a big deal, however.

Unless graduates are walking into great jobs after university (which is not happening at the moment) I can't think of a better option than to head over to the Far East for a possibly life changing experience.  You won't regret it and you might just discover who you really are, what life is about, and what you want to do with it while you're there.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thought Experiment: Far East Native Teachers in the West?

As an interesting thought experiment, in my last blog, I introduced the idea of having a Far East Native teacher programme in our own Western countries.  I have no illusions that it will actually happen and there would be some changes to make to the programme, for sure, but I think it could run in roughly the same way.  I think this would be of great value to our students in the west and might just give our rather stagnant education system a little shot in the arm.  It would be a refreshing, interesting, open-minded, and important change, but there would be some unique problems for Far East teachers, that westerners do not have when they go to Asia to teach.

Problems for Far East Teachers in the West (I will use England and Korea as an examples)

1. Discipline of Students

Because of their history of Confucianism, teachers from the Far East expect an automatically high level of respect from their students.  Even though this is only a general rule, and obviously not all students follow this example and are disrespectful, the atmosphere in a Korean school is far more respectful towards teachers than in England.  There would also be a problem for Far East teachers in England with disciplining students when they did step out of line.  Corporal punishment in schools, in one form or another, still exists in most Far Eastern countries and is still the main form of punishment.  Teachers coming to England will have to radically change their strategy and may have to be helped in lessons by experienced teachers.  Lastly, students (in Korea at least), have a greater interest in, and a higher general amount of knowledge of Western culture, than Western students have in Eastern culture.  This might make it harder for them to motivate students in their lessons.

2.  Capturing Students Imagination

Following on from the last point I made above, they may find it harder to interest students in the topic of Eastern language and culture.  Also, the Korean method of teaching is rather didactic, less interactive, and frankly less interesting than many students in England will be used to.  This could actually be the most important point of all, as I could forsee real problems with respect from the students, particularly if they see the classes as boring.  Because students in Korea are generally more interested in Western culture than students in England are of Far Eastern culture, the concept of the whole lesson might be less interesting for them.

3.  Homesickness

Many Westerners currently living in Korea will report at least some form of homesickness, and for some missing family and friends will be too much for them and they will have to cut their contracts short.  I think this would be a greater problem for Korean people, who have a much greater sense of family and are used to a group culture, where they can rely on people.  Westerners, generally, are more comfortable with the idea of being alone and doing many things on their own.  Far East teachers coming to England may require greater support in this area than Westerners currently receive in Korea.

4.  Food

Many Native English teachers in South Korea struggle with the food, but I believe Korean people would struggle much more in England.  Korean food is not easily available, and much of the food is unhealthy compared to Korean food.  Korean food has quite specific and special flavours, that might be difficult to find in England.  This may cause a lot of stress and possibly increase the chance of homesickness and an early finish of contracts.

5.  Bureaucracy

This may be a problem, as red tape and paperwork are much more prevalent in English schools.  If Far East teachers are to be able to cope with the above demands in England, some of the bureaucratic elements to teaching positions have got to be dealt with by other people in the school.  There might also be legal issues with teachers that are unqualified (at least in England), teaching and taking responsibility for students in UK schools.  This is an issue that Korean schools just do not worry about, with a less bureaucratic nature that that I wish we could have in England.

Because of the above challenges for Far East native teachers, a considerably better system, with much more care for the individual would have to be put in place, than is currently practiced in Korea.  The notion of care of the individual is fairly absent in Korean culture, due to the Confucian 'group' culture mentality.  I touched on this in my first blog, where I ranted about my wife's job as a nurse.

I am not sure I have any hope of this idea coming true in our western countries, as it might seem quite radical.  But ask yourself, why it is so radical?  It's not like we in the west have mastered Far Eastern languages or have in-depth knowledge of their cultures.  So why can Korea, Japan, and China do this and we can't (or most probably, won't)?  Do we think learning about their cultures is not important, or that we can't learn anything from them?  Do we also think that learning their languages is not important?  I would argue that if we are thinking any or all of these things we are surcumbing to arrogance and stupidity in equal measure, and not looking at current trends pointing to an inevitably strong Asian economy in the future.
I can envisage a few key differences between the Native English teacher programme in Korea and a possible Far East teacher programme in England.  A few key areas actually highlight how poor the current system is in Korea, but as I said before it is better than nothing.  I hadn't realised quite how bad Korea can be, and then I thought about it from this reverse point of view.  How would we do it?

How Things Would Be Different in England

1.  A Greater Support for Teachers

If a similar programme were to be successful in England, a greater support would be necessary for the teachers from the Far East.  In Korea it is all fairly organised until the teacher gets to the school, and then it's anybody's guess as to what is going to happen.  I went back to school after vacation today, and without warning I have different co-teachers, classes I was not expecting, computers that need passwords to start but no one knows what they are, and TVs that can't be switched on because the wires are broken.  This sort of thing cannot happen in England, and I do not believe it ever would.  I am not largely ignored in my school, many people speak to me and are nice to me, but the job I am doing is most definitely ignored.  If I ask for anything (however simple) to help me improve my classes, my requests are largely dismissed or forgotten.  Students are mainly understanding and respectful here in Korea, but if a teacher was left in the lurch like this in England, they would be dog-meat.  It is also just an incredibly careless attitude to take with someone, who has (usually alone) come from thousands of miles away, and a totally different culture to teach in your country.  I think I understand Korea's culture quite well, I have been here now for almost 2 and a half years, but for new people this lack of consideration must be quite disheartening and lead to understandable indifference to the job.  I wonder how well a Korean in an English school would cope with the situations reversed?  I doubt that they could cope at all.  Koreans definitely take for granted the ability of Western people to adapt to their situation given that they are also, in almost every case, completely alone in their school.

2.  Lower Pay

I believe Far East teachers could be attracted to England for lower pay than Native English teachers demand.  This is not to say that we should expect them to work at near slave labour wages, but that we need not see it as hugely necessary to offer them attractive salaries.  The experience of living and teaching in our countries will be attractive to many in the Far East.

3.  Accommodation

As I mentioned above, I believe loneliness would be a much greater issue for Far Eastern teachers, and there would be other problems in England with providing cheap housing in good areas.  Public transport is also an issue in England.  I think the only way of solving these problems is for the Far East teachers to live with someone from the school, with another teacher and their family, for example.  This way Far East teachers can be with a family and also be helped out easily when they have problems.

4.  Curriculum

There would need to be a set curriculum for Far East teachers to follow, but it also would need to be flexible enough to allow for significant teacher input into ideas for teaching and inspiration.  This may just even be a simple guide into ideas for lessons for Far East teachers, which they can expand upon, but to just give a structure for all Far East teachers when they come to England.

Haven't really gone into this one in much depth and it seems strange that I have never heard of this idea before.  Should I be claiming this as an original idea?  I would welcome any comments on this one, to get an idea of what other fellow westerners think, and even if teaching in England would be attractive to those from the Far East.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Native English Teacher in Korea Part 3 Ignorance and Racism

I guess you could briefly summarise my feeling of the worth of a Native English teacher in Korea, as someone that should be an inspiration to the students, and someone who is prepared to be inspired by the students themselves and the Korean people they meet everyday, during their stay.  On making this statement I am aware that I maybe guilty on two charges; that of being overly dramatic, and that of being arrogant in thinking that I can be inspirational to them.  I am not one to be dramatic, so I am going to defend myself on this charge by asking a question; if you are doing something (a job), which you go to almost everyday, and spend more time doing than possibly seeing your best friends, what's the point unless you can enjoy it and in a way that enriches your life?  Not everyone can be a doctor, or a marine biologist (my ideal profession), so why not find a way to enjoy and learn the most that you can from your work?  What a waste of so much time spent at work, in your life, if you can't do this.  On the charge of arrogance, I feel that arrogance should not be confused with confidence, and it is those that are best at their, jobs, sport, art, etc, that have the most confidence.  If you don't believe you can make a difference, and that you are valuable, what is the point?

The great thing about a job in Korea, as a Native teacher, is that it is easy to be inspirational to students.  You can achieve this just by being there, just by being yourself.  The western way of behaving, acting, and thinking is so foreign here, that most of what you will find yourself doing, just by acting normally, is interesting, funny, surprising, and inspirational to many an open young mind.  I say to a young mind, as I am acutely aware that the same behaviour can be annoying, rude, and inappropriate to some of the older generation here who have their minds firmly shut.  So what a great job this is, if you can look at it from this point of view.  You can be an inspiration to hundreds of people, in a country and culture you knew nothing about a year ago, just by being yourself.  It only really requires a small amount of organisation and planning, a good sense of humour, and an ability to survive the odd awkward situation.  You don't even have to test students, do reports, or have any responsibility for anything else whatsoever.  Just try to be a good teacher, and it's easy here in Korea.

For the reasons above I am going to propose a similar scheme in Western countries but with Far-Eastern teachers.  The system would work exactly the same but in reverse, with a bit of tinkering to the system, and also with a varied range of teachers from different parts of the Far East.  I think the language learning is less important than the cultural learning, so teachers could come from the three main economic powerhouses of the area, China, Japan, and South Korea.  The policy could also cover a wider base of countries like Thailand, Nepal, etc, although this may not be seen as very beneficial for the future and therefore not very economically viable.

When I returned to England after my first stint in South Korea, I was greeted with a profound ignorance of the place and the Far East in general.  People knew nothing.  When I asked them what they know about Korea, the two most common answers were, 'they eat dog, don't they?' and 'are they at war with that crazy place North Korea?'.  A worrying amount of people just assumed they spoke Chinese, and consider all the Far East countries to be 'the same'.  I encounter the last statement often, and I usually counter it with, 'so English people are the same as the French and Germans, are they?'.  The answer then is, 'of course not'.  So how can they expect all these countries in Far East Asia to be the same?  The people I talk to back home in England are not stupid, or without money, or poorly educated either.  What's going on?

Is this what most people know about Koreans?

With the richest nations in the world beginning to change, can we afford to be ignorant of a whole other set of cultures?  In England (and other western countries), we are familiar with Middle Eastern, European, and Latin American cultures, and even Arican, but woefully ignorant of Far Eastern cultures.  Even former colonies in China and Hong Kong don't seem to have helped the British along.  We have seemed to embrace and understand some of our other former colonies, but those people that have emigrated from China just seem to live quietly in England, and all English people seem to understand is how to order food from a Chinese take-away.  This is to the credit of the Chinese and other Far Eastern people living in the UK.  These people just seem to get on with it.  When was the last time you heard of a group of Chinese people protesting about 'their rights' as a minority or trying to change laws?  Do we harbour any Chinese fundamentalists in the UK?  I really can't think of any.  They just quietly live their lives in the UK, within the law and we never hear about them.  That's great, but it is also why we also know nothing about them.  We should know a little more about these people than we do, and because of the fact that we don't have a colonial history in Japan and Korea, we know even less about them.  It is high time we learned, not just because of the possible financial benefits of doing so, but also because our societies and the global community can only benefit from a greater understanding and dialogue.  I can assure you that the average Korean High school student these days, knows a lot more about our cultures than we do of theirs.  This is a nice little future advantage for them if we are going to be competing against them in a global economy.  There is another issue and that is the role that cultural ignorance plays in racism in our much more multicultural countries.  One would of thought that, for social cohesion's sake we should know a little more about a growing minority of our populations.  We have religious education in our schools, but why just focus on religion, surely their should be cultural studies also.  This is not necessarily a different subject, but it can be different and currently we don't do it.

One thing that strikes you when you first come to Korea is the amount of racism directed towards you.  It's not necessarily negative and often positive, and usually comes in a very passive form of staring, giggling, and just simply the constant saying of 'Hello!'.  This is particularly prevalent in smaller towns, but I must add that I think I am noticing it less than when I was first here over 3 years ago.  When I am with my wife, their prejudice shows a little more, particularly from the older generation.  I often see them looking my wife up and down (not discretely) when I am with her, and when I ask my wife why they do this, she replies with a sigh, 'Because they think I am a prostitute and you are probably an American soldier.'  I reply, with, 'I can understand how they make the mistake with me, it's because of my rugged physique!'.  In all seriousness though, this is upsetting particularly to my wife.  I have also heard of blond girls that have been thought of as being Russian hookers by people here, with one American friend of mine telling me how his blonde American girlfriend had to put up with an old woman on the street bending over whilst pushing and pulling her butt cheeks together, saying 'happy birthday, happy birthday, have good time, have good time!'  The meaning of this (in case you hadn't guessed) is that my American friend is presumed to have hired a Russian hooker for his birthday to do things with better imagined than said.  I can remember saying to my wife that things just aren't like that back home in England and that people would be fine with her and me, and no one would bat an eye-lid.  How wrong I was.  You see I just never had looked at racism from any point of view other than my own white face.  Having an Asian woman by my side in England for a year was very enlightening indeed.  Now I can't say this for certain, but I believe that some of the most racially abused and misunderstood people in our societies are Asian, starting from Thailand and and going east, finishing in Japan.  I think this is because black people have had a greater history of mistreatment in the west, so we as nations are more sensitive to this form of racism.  And with the problems emanating from the middle east and with people from Islamic countries, this form of racism also.  As I said before those from Far East countries just seem to slip under the radar of most people, and they usually just do not complain even when they are the subject of racial abuse or ignorance and cultural ignorance.  There also seems to be a particular sub-section of racial ignorance and abuse specifically reserved for white men with Asian partners or girlfriends.  I could write a book on the number of times I heard just plain ignorance, name calling, and worse while I was with my wife in England.  The drunken people on the street saying things like, 'love your little Thai bride, mate', were probably the ones that least bothered me, as they were often drunken 'Chav' idiots, who, after all, didn't know me and were people that I would never want to meet again.  The simple ignorance and prejudice of sensible, educated people I had known for years, is what actually surprised and, I have to admit, rather saddened me.  This was not because they were bad people, but because they had a prejudice so ingrained into their mind-set, that even knowing who I was for many years, didn't change their opinion.  These more minor transgressions into prejudice, took the form of ignorant remarks most of the time.  Examples are; 'Where's your wife today, is she cooking?', 'Is she cleaning', 'Where's your wife from, Thailand?', 'Wanted to get out of her country, did she?'.  I think the comment that irritated me the most was the Thailand comment, because everyone who said it knew exactly where I had been in the past 2 years and that was Korea.  So I felt like the comment was specifically designed to annoy me.  Since when has it been acceptable to talk about somebody's wife like this anyway?!  All these comments came from a particular club that I had been a member of for over 20 years, to which I shall never return as a member again, but I might add there are still many people who go there who I still respect and think of as good friends.  There were some that made a real effort to make my wife feel welcome, but many that didn't.  To those that did I say thank you and I will see you again soon.  To those that didn't, shame on you.

That strange look in people's eyes was ever present, but only lasted one night at my favourite place in England, Copford Cricket Club.  My friends there saw past the skin after one night and I am thankful to them for making my wife feel so welcome in England.  I have never been more pleased about the decision to have the Copford emblem emblazoned on my arse!

I realised that even I had some prejudice after I played in a squash match one night.  After the match the teams were treated to dinner by one of the players wives.  She turned out to be from Thailand.  My thoughts immediately turned to, 'this is a bit strange', and suspicion over why they were together.  But why?  Both were of a similar age, and they seemed to suit each other.  I think there is some right to be suspicious of an old man with a young Thai girl, but a couple of the same age?  Could they just be in love?  I think all should be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, because with the amount of people that visit Thailand every year, it must at least sometimes be genuine, and for this reason couples should be respected.  Suspicion is always going to be raised of women in South East Asian countries, because there has been a history and reputation of marriages of convenience there.  But has there been any real history of this from Korea, Japan, and China?  I suggest that the answer is absolutely no.  Any of those out there looking to get married and thinking that Korea is the place for you, are going to be disappointed.  The vast majority of women here would not think of dating a foreigner, and if they did, their families would quickly quash any ideas of the relationship getting serious.  I have had friends that have tried, with difficulty, dating South Korean women (one friend commented, rather vulgarly, that once you have to pried their legs open, then you have to get through their chastity belt), and those that have been successful have never gotten much further than a couple of months, before the issue of telling their parents set in.  I was lucky enough to find a very independent thinking girl who had a open-minded mother who managed to persuade a slightly closed-minded father.  Honestly, the crap that I have had to put up with in cultural differences, family, and Korean attitudes, to eventually now be settled with my lovely wife has been indescribable.  Only to be greeted on my return home with, 'Where's your wife from, Thailand, and does she like cooking and cleaning, and she must be glad to get out and come to England?'.  It's a scale of ignorance so mind-boggling that you don't know whether to laugh or cry.  With this one there is no continuum, racism exists in the East, the West, the South, and the North.  We are a tribal species, it is in our nature to ridicule and persecute those that are not seen as in our group.  We in the West have made great leaps to conquer it but are not there yet, and let's not kid ourselves about it.  Education is the only cure for stupidity.

I can't help but think my life would have been much easier on my return home if people had some education about Far East cultures.  It might be a revelation to some people, but the continent of Asia is rather large, and there is quite a big difference between the countries and cultures that live within it.  After spending just a short period of time here, it is even possible to distinguish Korean, Chinese, and Japanese by the way they look.  It is as clear as telling the difference between the average Spaniard, German, and Englishman, actually, probably easier, because there is less cross-cultural relationships here and therefore less genetic diversity.  I have always been irritated by people coming up to me in Korea and saying, 'Hi, you're from America?'.  I have nothing against the US, but I am not American, and I think I have heard this upward of a thousand times now.  My wife had exactly the same problem in England, except she was presumed to be from Thailand when she was with me, and Chinese when she was alone.  What is wrong with the question, 'Where are you from?', usually it is appropriate to ask a genuine question when you don't know something.

Below:  A T-Shirt in Korea, that says 'I am not American', maybe there should be a line of T-Shirts in England saying, 'I am not Chinese', and 'This is my wife, I did not buy her in Thailand.'

'Education, education, education!'.  I can remember this being a soundbite from a Labour election campaign in the UK many years ago.  Nothing much changed.  I wonder if it is time to give school systems a bit of a mix-up in the UK, and fly with the times and try something new.  The facts are indisputable, the economic powers of the world are changing, people in the UK (and maybe other countries) are ignorant of these cultures, there are more people of these cultures in our countries, and subtle forms of racism still exist, even among the educated.  It's time the education of our children reflected these issues.  There would be major problems, however, in having teachers from the Far East teaching in our schools, and these problems show up, rather nicely, the differences between our cultures.  This is what I will be writing about in my next blog.