Some thoughts on teaching English in China and Indonesia

It’s been more than a year since my last post but I think i’s important to put some information out there for prospective English teachers.

After I left Korea in 2015 my went to China. I had a two year plan and was very excited about the position I’d accepted with EF 6 months prior to my departure. I was promised a few things including:

  • professional development in the form of a TESOL and later a Dip.TESOL.
  • a professional teaching environment surrounded by lots of other foreign teachers
  • high standards

The truth was rather different. There’s no doubt that the first two weeks of orientation were great. We were put up in the Holiday Inn Shenzhen and got our training materials, polo shirts and bags. All very nice.

After orientation I was moved to a “new” school that was very far from the centre of Shenzhen. None of the teachers I met during my time there had even heard of the suburb I’d been placed. It turned out that I was the only teacher at this school, surrounded by sales staff. Staff who would mix ages together paying no regards to student levels. I always got the distinct impression they were purely money-driven.

We had no business licence so I couldn’t officially teach either. Cue weekend demo lessons and unofficial classes afterwards to keep students interested. So far, so good. They got an oven and I had to bake cookies with kids but we had no fire extinguishers in the school!!!

Someone thought that it was a good idea to put wet coffee grounds all over the school to absorb the smell of paint… which lead to a fly infestation. HUGE flies. In Korea I used fly swatters to play games with kids. In China I had to use it to kill flies.

This school was built according to a “new design” which featured all glass walls. Very practical for playing games and keeping your students’ attention. Especially the classroom that looked out into the mall. Very clever.

We had lots of iPads but no workable wifi. The big touch screen TV that replaced all whiteboards (and contained the whole lesson plan, videos and activties) would switch itself off after 5 minutes of you not touching it. Also, if a fly was on the screen you couldn’t write on it.

That was my work environment.

I went to an info session about TESOL training. We were told that there was a lack of trainers in China which meant that anyone interested in development would go on a waiting list and that senior teachers would be given preference. I was  also told that I’d probably have to wait until my second year before I could do a course and  that my manager would have the final say about whether I could attend/ whether my leave would be used for the course or not.

It was after attending this session that I decided not to continue working for EF after my 2 month probation. After 2 months, you’d have to give 2 months’ notice. You only required a 3 day notice period during your probation. I gave a week’s notice but I still had my apartment.

When you move to China, there is a lot of pressure on you to choose an apartment as soon as possible. Your office is supposed to help you, but only as much as they can be bothered. I was advised to take  an apartment I was very hesitant about because it required a 2 month deposit and first month’s rent upfront. That worked out as GBP1500. I walked away from it initially, but my manager told me it was a good deal.It was only party furnished so I spent another 500GBP at Ikea to make it liveable. (I am a bare necessities kind of person: pots, pans, iron, duvet etc.).  When I gave  notice on my apartment it meant losing out on a month’s non-refundable deposit and re-selling my practically brand new Ikea stuff. BIG LOSS. I only recently paid off this credit card debt.

When I handed in my notice, EF begged me to stay and offered to move me to another school. I declined saying that I felt that they had been dishonest from the start.I was really disappointed that I’d planned a 2 year career move 6 months ago based on lies.At my debrief, I was told by the on-boarding guy that less than 40% of teachers stay the full year. That is all you need to know about EF China. Overworked, underpaid. In the month after I left, 3 other teachers that I knew of, left too. While at my school, one sales person and the Chinese head of school left too.

I was waiting out my last month in my apartment so I started job hunting. I chose a job in Indonesia that offered my a CELTA as part of my contract, as well as a work visa (KITAS) , accommodation and a flexible schedule which meant that I could freedive 1 week/ month. I asked a million questions because the deal seemed too good to be true.

I was very happy to leave China.

The Indonesian dream was mostly all true. Unfortunately, the most important part, the visa, never came true. Indonesian Immigration is a joke. My colleagues and I spent a year working on business visas while we waited to be processed. It became evident after 6 months that the KITAS was a pipedream. I finished my contract a month ago and just heard that immigration was going from house to house in the neighbourhood where foreigners live. They took at least one passport away.

I would not recommend working as an English teacher for most companies in Indonesia. Aim for a public or private school, not an academy. Ask to speak to previous employees to find out the truth about KITAS. Why should you take the risk to make money for someone else?

Stick to Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. If you teach in China, aim to work at a public school.



Freediving update/feedback

I spent March in the Philippines improving my freediving and I’m happy to say that despite some sinus issues early on and a cold in somewhere in the middle, I am now certified as SSI Level 2 Instructor.

A few tips on preparing for your course:

– choose a center that makes time for your course, after all, you’re paying a lot of money to learn how to be a better freediver and teacher.

– you can PRE-pare for your course: start a training plan a month before your course that includes CO2 tables, diaphragm/ thoracic stretching and swim training (if you don’t have access to a pool-based freediving club). The “Apnea Tables” app is very useful, as is Natalia Molchanova’s blog about pool training and deconcentration. If your mouthfill or Frenzel are a bit sketchy, read up about the Frenzel-Fattah technique and practice some dry exercises. Try and get your hands on Federico Mana’s Equalization for Freediving (ISBN 9788887376913 – not available as an e-book on amazon unfortunately). Mana also has a YouTube channel with some dry exercises- amazing party tricks to amuse your friends with… If you’re practicing static, watch this video– not for the breathhold as such but for the great coaching- the guy says some good things about contractions that are worth remembering in your own sessions.

– acquire spares and learn how to change your D4i battery before you go away. Always carry a spare and the correct tools to open the computer. It’s pretty easy to do- and it will save you around 200USD- just make sure you test the seal in fresh water before you dive with it and look for bubbles (like you would with a camera housing).

Once you start your course it’s worth remembering that:

– freefall technique is as important as mouthfill & duckdiving. Identify your problem areas early and work on them separately- ask your instructor to dive down with you and critique your style if they’re not already doing this.

– everyone progresses at a different pace. If you compare yourself to others you may end up doing yourself a disservice. If you have an off day, forgive yourself and learn from the experience. Every session, even a shit one, has value.  Putting excessive pressure on yourself will only have a negative effect on your diving.

– be kind to yourself: take a day off every 5 days and do something totally removed from freediving. A rest day can make a huge difference in performance. Make sure that you keep your thoughts positive and try and keep the vibe light around the buoy. I had some days where I had great sessions despite getting only a few hours’ sleep. Why? Because I was very happy!

– put your computer away some times and just feel. Sometimes the alarms and obsession with depth really just get in the way of the pure enjoyment of being one with the ocean.

– get your head right. Freediving is as much mental as it is physical. One of the exercises people fear is the 5x20m. It’s good to start by doing a 5x15m and building on that. It’s OK to fail the first few times since your body gets stronger every time you practice. For me, the first 3 dives are easy and 4 is the hardest mentally with 5 being easier cos you know it’s the last one. Tips for 5×20: fin slowly, there’s no rush- you don’t have to fin from 10m upwards anyway so just chill. Take a few deep recovery breaths, a long exhale and start your  yogic breathing to slow your heart rate down. From 20s onwards you can start your last breaths- I only needed two to get to 20m and back. Remember, you may get contractions on the way down on #4 and 5 but it’s not because you’re low on O2, just high in CO2. You can do it, it just doesn’t feel that great 😉 When I got around to doing the full 5x20m I no longer felt any lactic in my legs so I’m glad I progessed the skill.

– train without the freediving school. Go to Moalboal, find the people who own their own buoys and ropes and go dive with them. For free. For fun. For the beauty of comraderie and your shared love of our oceans.

Additional links:

Handsfree EQ (BTV)

Pohang Soju cocktail restaurant Damichon

A while back my school had dinner at a pretty famous-in-Korea restarurant/ bar called Damichon (다미촌).

The lady who owns the establishment is kind of like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, just taller. She started as a server but made so much money with her skillz, red lipstick and toit tops that she managed to buy her own place after a while.

The food was pretty decent but you can’t really go wrong with Korean BBQ. Two things set Damichon apart from your standard Korean dining experience: our Soju bottles were branded with the school name and logo and the after-dinner cocktail show was unbeatable!

There are loads of videos on YouTube– check it out.  My principal went nuts for this dame… I’ve never seen him bow to anyone before.

It’s a good idea to pre-book Ham Sun Bok (함순복) in advance so that she can entertain your table with her tricks!


Dokdo bread

If you live in Korea you know that passions run high when it comes to Dokdo, that tiny rock near Ulleungdo that somehow got left ouf of the peace treaty between Japan and Korea after the Korean War ended. “Dokdo is Korea” as the slogan goes and although Korea currently occupies this tiny, unhospitable rock it officially belongs to Japan. I guess you can thank Uncle Sam for that one.

Someone saw a gap in the market and decided to start baking Dokdo Bbang (bbang=bread) here in Pohang. As it happens, the bakery is quite near my house so I couldn’t pass up the chance to buy my school leaving gifts there.

According to The Korea Times, owner Kim Ki Sun got well pissed off when he heard that a baker in Japan was producing “Takeshima bread” so he decided to retaliate!

I bought 3 boxes of ten, and was offered 2 samples and 3 freebies- pretty awesome! These madeleine cakes are orange flavour whereas Dokdo itself is blueberry. I liked it for the most part but it did have a slight aftertaste, like when you add too much baking powder.

You can order the bread cake, online or just pop into 소망 베 이커리bakery itself, located in Song-do dong (they’re open til 11PM and they also sell pizza).

They make the perfect gift for principals so they offer the perfect ending to a happy school relationship.


14 Things Korea taught me

1. Kimchi. You get so tired of hearing how amazing kimchi is that you get a bit blaze and cynical about it. The hype is true though: kimchi’s probiotic content is a godsend to your stomach. The only thing I’d cut down on is the salt content on this side dish to make it truly perfect.

2. Persimmon. This fruit has two varieties: a squidgy one (hongshi) and a hard one (dan gam). I prefer the hard one personally but did you know that a persimmon packs more punch than an apple? Check out its nutritional value.

3. Meals that incorporate loads of veggies. There is always an abundance of vegetable side dishes as part of any Korean meal. Again, the only thing I’d change is salt content, as many veggies are soaked in salt first, drained and then served.

4. Wrap your meat in leaves. Sesame (Perilla) leaves are my favourite discovery here.

5. Marmelade as tea! Best thing ever. You can also find quince tea which is perfectly spreadable on a piece of bread.

6. Walnut, almond, adlait tea. Used as a meal replacement drink or a snack, this tea nutty tea contains fatty acids that help reduce cholesterol and control blood pressure. It is unbeatable during winter time! More about the amazing world of Korean tea here.

7. Bone broth. Bones and marrow have fallen out of Western culinary favour but there are great benefits to consuming it! It contains calcium phosphate and collagen. You know how we always remark how Asians seem to age so much better than Westerners? Obviously genetics play a part but food also contributes to strong bones and nails, smooth skin and shiny hair.

8. Pig’s feet (Jokbal). I was so confused by this when I bought it the first time at emart. Ten dollars and it’s mostly bone and fat??! WHAAT??! But jokbal DOES have meat on it and again, the collagen content is beneficial to hair, nails and skin.

9. Black coffee. It took a while to get used to but a cup of black coffee has on average 6kcal whereas any shop version containing milk or cream is around 200kcal. Do the math!

10. Zero waste. Use as much of the plant/ animal as you can- waste nothing! I applaud thsi highly sustainable use of resources and I think if you’re going to kill an animal the this is the best way to honour its death.

11. Seaweed. Iodine and many other vitamins and minerals. Just don’t get addicted to kim sheets, the small ones you wrap around rice. They are only salt and fat. The nutrition’s been stripped from them completely. (They taste amazing though).

12. Outdoor gyms. They’re free, they’re everywhere and they use body resistance to build muscle! Koreans are active regardless of their age and you always see them at the outdoor gyms, walking backwards or hiking.

13. Booze. Due to my apartment’s proximity to restaurants and bars I’ve heard my fair share of loutish drunken arguments this year. I could even hear my neighbours getting physically abusive with each other in the middle of the night. It’s given me a different perspective on the destructive aspects of alcohol consumption and I’ve curbed my own habit substantially.

14. But booze!! It’s not all bad… in moderation. Maesil (green plum) wine for example, helps with digestion.

I feel like many of the ideas around food used to be part of Western culture too, before the advent of convenience food. We’ve made untampered, real food expensive and made fake food cheap. We’ve become so fussy about what our fruit and veg should look like in order to be “edible” and the same with the meat we eat! The pre 1950’s generations recognised the nutritunal value of different animal parts and had no qualms about using them all. How many people have peanut allergies in Korea? Not many!!!!! This seems to be a Western problem! The only thing that Korean women avoid eating during pregnancy is raw fish. They still eat cooked fish, peanuts, chillies, dairy…

Sadly, the Western diet has made inroads into Korea in the last decade and you can see a lot more chubby kids shuffling around. Bread, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, lots of deep fried foods and dairy products are being intergrated into modern Korean culture and it will be interesting to see how this affects the nation’s overall health over time.

Thanks Korea for teaching me so many things about food and nutrition!

Going to the gynaecologist in Korea (guys look away now)

I’ve been putting off this dreaded task for as long as I can.  Going to the gynae is intimidating enough without adding language barriers to the mix. My friend recently recommended a doctor with decent English and suddenly I had no more excuses.

It was interesting to compare a Korean gynae visit to an NHS UK one.

1. You obviously have to pay in Korea whereas the NHS visit is free. The prices are very reasonable though and I only had to wait 10 minutes (without an appointment). Some procedures are covered by your insurance but not all of them (take your ARC along anyway).

2. Along with the PAP smear, you can also ask for a sonogram. I have never been offered a sonogram of my uterus ever before and wow, it’s amazing! You can even see what stage of your cycle you’re in!

3. The results are processed within a week. I remember having to wait a month or more for my results in the UK.

You can also have STD tests done: some tests are covered by insurance and others are not. The full series of tests for HPV, for example, would cost 230,000 won. Pricey, but there ARE different levels of tests so don’t let that put you off. Remember, HPV causes cancer.

Overall, I’d say this was a “pleasant” experience, all things considered. So many cancers are treatable if detected early enough. Don’t become a statistic because of nerves and a language barrier.

**In Pohang, you can go to the Yoon Clinic, in Idong, above the Baskin Robins at Sageori (4-way intersection) on the 4th floor.

Freediving training February!

I’m in my final month in Korea and I’ve just started prep for the next step in my freediving journey. I’m aiming to become an instructor in March so I have to get back to my August form so that everything will be easy.

While I was stuck on a gondola ride at High 1, I came across this amazing video about Frenzel and equalization. I don’t really have an issue with Frenzel. My main problem is swallowing my air so I’d like to nip that annoying habit in the bud within the 1st few days of training in Cebu.

Since my two main goals for instructors will be to dive to 40m and achieve a static apnea time of 4:00 minutes, I decided to attend a very special templestay in Korea.  I needed a temple that puts a strong emphasis on meditation.

Golgulsa Temple is situated in Gyeongju, about 34km from Pohang.  “Golgulsa” literally means “Stone Buddha Temple” and it’s home to a 4m large Buddha carved into Mt. Hamwol, sometime between the 7th and 9th century.

Golgulsa is also famous for a form of martial art that was originally practised only by monks. Sunmudo means ““the way of doing meditative martial arts”.  It’s a unique combination of meditation, yoga and martial art. You can read more about the fascinating history of Sunmudo here.

I arrived on Saturday and had 3 meditation practices under the belt by the time I left the following day. I found it very helpful to have a refresher on what to focus on when meditating. Essentially, breathing and relaxation are intrinsically linked. It’s about acknowledging a distracting thought but letting it pass through as you return to breath. I also found moving meditation a really enjoyable activity. I’m hoping to use meditation and yoga not only for getting a good breathe-up but also to help me deal with contractions better. My training mantra is “contractions are your friend”. I hope that if I repeat this enough I’ll actually start believing it instead of being distracted by the discomfort.

Trying out Sunmudo is part of the templestay experience and it’s amazing how exercises that only use balance and bodyweight can cause such high lactic acid levels in your muscles! I thought I was relatively fit but I guess the training session targeted muscles that are not used too much in cycling and snowboarding. Two days later and I’m still stiff hahaha!

I met grand master Jeog Un Sunim during Sunday’s tea ceremony and I had a question for him (which has nothing to do with martial art, meditation or freediving). I noticed there was a statue of a Jindo dog next to a small, fat-bellied smiling Buddha on the temple grounds. When I asked him about it, he told me that he had a dog for 20 years and that she was like a daughter to him. After her death 5 years ago, he decided to honour her memory by erecting the statue on the temple grounds. She lives in through her daughter, who was happily snoring away in a corner while we were doing our 5AM meditation session.

There’s a lot we can learn from Buddhism and apply to freediving. Other than mediation and knowing the importance of breath and living mindfully (living in the now), it also teaches us not to attach to anything (other than the line of course. ALWAYS be attached to the line). Don’t attach to failure, don’t attach to nerves or negative feelings. Acknowledge that failure is part of the learning and growing process. Be aware of your body and your breath. Be aware of how your thoughts are impacting your training and performance. Be aware of where you tense up when you start stressing or when you feel discomfort (for me it’s my neck). Be grateful for your health and the beauty of the ocean.

By knowing yourself you can strive beyond your limits. This takes time, training and patience. I’d say the end result is worth it though 🙂

* You can find other useful articles about freediving here.




High 1 Ski Resort

I love winter in Korea! I finally got round to using my season pass for High 1 last week. I’ve blogged about snowboarding in Korea before but I’d like to re-iterate what an amazing deal you get with a season pass.

If you’re new to the game, start with these 2 steps: join Snowboard and Ski South Korea  and This way, you will be notified when season passes become available on the internet – usually around September, after Chuseok. There are two rounds of season pass registrations, one in September and again in November. There is a slight price hike if you go with November.

What’s so great about a season pass? The price. I paid 238,000 won for a season pass that covers me from December to March- lift pass AND return bus shuttle from Pohang to High 1 Resort included. I don’t think you can get this deal at this price anywhere else in the world. I have my own gear now but if you have to rent a board and boots it works out to 30,000 won per day (from 08:30 to 16:00). NOTE: the season pass IS more expensive for guys… around 352,000 won I believe. Tour operators such as Enjoy Korea and Waegook Travel usually charge the price of a season pass for a weekend’s worth of snowy fun.

I highly recommend NOT going over the weekend. If you have a season pass, go during the week so that you can enjoy the non-existent queues, wide open spaces and uncrowded slopes. Weekends are just crazy busy- you’re looking at 20-30 minute queues to get on the ski lift. No thanks.

This past weekend High 1 held a Snow Festival, which included a Snow Tubing Festival. Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) offered bloggers the opportunity to attend the Festival and stay at High 1 CC Hotel. I’ve only ever visited High 1 during winter but during the summer months it’s actually known for being a Country Club! Playing golf country club style is a pretty exclusive activity since space comes at such a high premium in this mountainous country. Koreans love golf and screen golf and netted driving ranges are incredibly popular.

High 1 CC Hotel’s facilities include a sauna, conference rooms, restaurants and a golf equipment shop. There is also a casino nearby, the  only one that is actually accessible to Koreans and foreigners (it’s illegal for Koreans to gamble).

My room was spacious, comfortable and tastefully decorated and offered an exquisite view of the mountains. We were treated to a delicious buffet and a post-dinner show by Sachoom! Sachoom’s dance performance is funny, energetic and covers a range of styles from B-Boy to K-pop to ballet.

I didn’t have time to try out the sauna, but once I got back down to Valley Ski House and saw the carnage of Saturday crowds, I decided to try out the jimjjilbang Sauna instead. Located between the Valley Ski House and Valley Condominium, a soak, scrub and steam will cost you 7,000 won. If you choose to have the whole jimjjilbang experience (sleeping there) it will cost 10,000 won.

You can also swim at Mountain Plaza, use the outdoor sauna (you need to wear a swimsuit), play pool, sing at Rush norebang or play arcade games!

Bottom line, you don’t have to be bored at High 1! I’m really going to miss winters in Korea. Shout out to KTO for hooking us up with the good stuff!



4 Rivers and Jeju video

I’ll blog about my last river, the Yeongsangang, soon, but here’s a compilation video I created at work today. It’s meant to have “Rivers and Roads” as soundtrack but YouTube won’t let me so I’ve gone for a little Deadmau5 type free tune instead. If you want the real experience, listen to it while playing the video.

I hope you like it 🙂