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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.

 

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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.

 

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 🙂

Freediving in the Philippines

I recently came back from spending two weeks with Freedive HQ on Mactan,Cebu, the Philippines.

Freedive HQ is owned by Mike Wells, who basically shaped the SSI freediving programme along with Lotta Erikson, Linda Paganelli (from Freedive Dahab/ Freedive International) and a few other big names in the industry. There are currently 2 female instructors who are the deepest un-official record holders for their respective countries: China and Korea. Miya hails from Korea and is currently training to reach 58m+. Sura Dai, from China, has dived to 54m and no doubt she’ll be breaking that soon enough… when she takes a break from teaching all of us newbies!

I started off with some in-water training- call it a refresher if you like. I was worried that I’d forgotten loads during my 4 year hiatus.  I did forget some things: I had to re-learn Frenzel and my freefall was a bit rubbish to begin with.On my first day I found myself thinking “This is crazy. What are you doing?” as I did my free immersion to 10m. Luckily it didn’t take long for my inner dolphin to wake up! FIM is so zen- I love hanging at the 15m bottom plate looking at the jellyfish pulsating by.

It was so good to be back in the water and I got back to 29m after 1 week. Now the hard work started.

Learning mouth fill, FRC and Frenzel is challenging. But I like challenges so it’s OK. The hardest thing with mouthfill/ Frenzel is to master glottis control and NOT swallow your air. We got loads on on-land exercises to do but underwater it’s just a case of trial and error until your body and mind get to the same understanding.

Our instructor, Sura Dai, is Chinese but her English is perfect. She is such an awesome instructor: funny, calm, patient. She also has an amazing collection of toys! We tested our lung capacity as well as our oxygen usage/ heart rate during dry apnea. I couldn’t believe that in 1:40 minutes I’d only used 21% of my body’s O2 and that my heart rate could drop to 39BPM so easily. That’s the mammalian dive reflex for you! One of the guys in my group managed to get down to 50% O2 before he inhaled. Amazing- he counted around 20 contractions. I didn’t push myself as hard as I should have because I don’t enjoy dry contractions. Underwater they feel like hiccups to me but on land I still struggle with them. This will be a major focus to the next part of my training.

I had 3 other guys in my group and we had such a great dynamic- we really motivated each other and you could see that in our results. I also witnessed a couple of LMCs and BOs for the first time ever- a lot less dramatic than I imagined them to be but it’s still weird to see someone go blank. Especially before you have to do a PB attempt. It’s SO important to control your thoughts, emotions and reactions and stay on the positive side of things. I saw that Robin Williams had died, but refused to let the idea swirl inside my head. Nothing bad was allowed to stay in there. Only good memories, good vibes and good tunes. It’s also vital for you to take the right amount of time for your breathe-up and increase your performance slowly. If you do 3 30m+ dives in a session you’re probably pushing yourself a bit too much, although it’s all up to the individual. What you don’t want is to keep on getting LMC/ BO and your body to get used to that as an acceptable response to breath-hold.

I ended up diving to 33.3m and if I had more time I think I would have gone deeper.

Sadly, we all have to go up to the surface, dry off and go home at some point. I surpassed my goal depth of 30m, completed SSI Level 3 and am ready to go back next year for a month for the next step. Meanwhile, I have to find a training pool in Pohang that will let me do dynamic and static…

Freediving in Korea:

There are clubs scattered across Korea, with my nearest one being in Daegu. Busan Scuba is currently gearing up to launch AFIA training (AFIA= Korea’s freediving association). Kevin Mitchell is based in Seoul and runs 1upfreediving. Most Koreans spearfish and don’t just purely freedive. Also, sea restrictions are a bit OTT here so expect most of your freediving to be pool based (great for pre-trip training). At the moment freediving is not hugely accessible to foreigners here but let’s see if I can change that a little bit before I leave! The terminology has mostly been borrowed from English so once you get a foot in the door the rest should come easy.

Links:

AIFA

AIDA

SSI

Freedive HQ’s blog

Sura’s blog (Chinese)

Miya’s blog (Korean)

One Breath (Korea)

Korea Freediving Team (Korea- NOT the national team or anything, that’s just their name)

Kevin Mitchell’s (AIDA instructor/ judge) blog on freediving in Korea

Annelie Pompe’s blog

***Featured image’s rights belong to Freedive HQ***

 

Wanna be a mermaid?

The world is a random place and the internet often brings special people and experiences our way.

Were it not for Couchsurfing, I would never have met Kanghee and learnt about his company wa-ve.me. Kanghee is a crazy cool guy who used to live in Seoul and has a background in photography and media. He took his imagination to Cebu where he runs snorkeling trips with a twist.

Let’s face it, most girls have a mermaid fantasy. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t get excited at the thought of getting their Ariel on. The trip is mostly aimed at Korean and Japanese tourists. Yes, mermen are also welcome to dress up for the photo op of a lifetime!

I had such a fun day with the Korean and Japanese guests on the boat. It was reassuring to see that despite all the WW2 issues still cropping up between these two great nations that their citizens really enjoy hanging out with each other.  I also found it  a great opportunity to practice my Korean listening and speaking skills as well perfecting my mermaid swim technique. And you know, when there are Koreans on the boat there will be free beer,  snacks and a party atmosphere!

The day will run along these lines: pick up from your hotel, a bit of waiting around for the boat to arrive, boat briefing, snorkelling/ scuba diving at Nalusuan Island (I’d recommend scuba diving over snorkelling because the snorkel area is tiny and absolutely rammed with people). After the dive/ snorkelling you’ll go onto Nalusuan Island for lunch: tasty BBQ and fresh fruit. The photo session took place while we waited for lunch which is good! Empty stomach= photogenic stomach! You’ll do some more diving/ snorkelling/ jet skiing after you leave the island.

Kanghee will email you a bunch of photo and video footage after the experience for you to wow your family and friends with. I highly recommend this as a day trip the next time you visit Cebu.

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Korean mermaids getting ready to strike a pose

Weird things Koreans do to Western food

Pizza:

Koreans have taken pizza to a different level.

Expect to find sweetcorn, potato and sweet potato on your pizza. Also, you may find it useful to know that your stuffed crust may not be cheese but sweet potato. Disappointing LOL!

Instead of a mozzerella shaker/ olive oil or pepper grinder on your table you can expect to  get a side of honey to dip your pizza slice in.

On the pizza theme, my students brought me a slice of home ec pizza- pizza with a rice base. I like this actually, crunchy rice with cheese on top. Nom nom.

Bread:

You may be able to find wholewheat bread in big cities but in smaller cities and town white bread is a staple.

Koreans love white bread. They also do some crazy shit to it.

Sweet garlic bread. Absolutely traumatic the first time this happens to you. I still don’t get why they’d take a classic and butcher it. Even if it’s cheesy garlic bread it will STILL be sweet.

Bread as dessert. Take a big chunk of bread. Slather in honey/ cinnamon/ butter. That’s the kind of thing I ate as a student when I spent all my pocket money on weed and my cupboard was bare! Here it’s a thing that people pay for. SMH.

Tomatoes as fruit:

Fruit salad with kiwi, apple and tomato anyone? How about an extra of breakfast cereal added in? I cannot lie, this was strange at the beginning but now I really like it!

Getting fat in Korea

Since starting at my new school I have put on about 5kg. Now I know I’m not a triathlete or scuba slave anymore but I’m not exactly a slacker either. I mostly eat unprocessed food, I hate donuts and I mostly follow a vegetarian diet at home. I drink less than last year too so why the hell am I getting lardy? Two facts about me: I do sport and I don’t do diets/ skipping meals/ weird eating fads.

The other day my co and I looked at the menu posted outside the cafeteria. I was shocked that Monday’s lunch contained 831kcal, Tuesday 630kcal and today was just over 700kcal! Suddenly it all made sense! My school is my feeder!

Now that I know what the problem is, what do I do about it? Some of my friends suggested bringing in my own lunch. This is not a valid option in my opinion, since lunch is about more than food in this country. It’s about socializing, communing and showing your appreciation for the culture. If you stop eating with your co teachers and kids they will judge you. Bad Foreigner! I can’t be asked with the political fall-out of NOT eating the cafeteria lunch. That’s on par with not attending teachers’ dinners and outings- it’s not going to do you any favours. The food is amazing too so I don’t want to give it up either.

Last year I was allowed to dish up for myself, which was perfect as I could control my portions. This year I get served. And how. The ladies heap about 2-3 cups of boiled rice onto my plate every day. I’ve tried to ask them (via my co) to cut down on my portions and today I actually asked for a kiddies portion. I hate wasting food and I don’t want them to judge me for throwing food away. I want them to serve me less! I’m hoping if I throw food away and I keep asking for less that I will finally achieve my goal.

It also got me thinking that I haven’t looked at a food label for ages usually because I try to eat clean, which doesn’t require label reading or calorie counting. I found this handy blog post that sheds some light on how to read Korean food labels and the Korean version of the food pyramid.

Here are translated versions on the ingredients you might find on packaged food (including TRANSFAT):

열량 Calories
탄수와물 Carbs
당류 Sugar
단백질 Protein
지방 Fat
포화지방 Unsat fat
트랜스지방 Trans fat
콜레스테롤 Cholesterol
나트륨 Sodium
칼슘 Calcium
식이셤유 Fiber

What’s my plan? I will combine cutting calories with upping my exercise level. You need to burn 3,500kcal to lose 1 pound of fat. That’s 7,700 kcal per kilogram! I’m not going to obsess about calorie counting cos life’s too short, but having a general number in the back of my head can’t hurt. You can use a calorie counter and I find Runner’s World to be a useful resource too. If you dig High Intensity Training then go here. You don’t need to go to a gym- use what’s around you: run, swim, cycle, use your own bodyweight, a big bag of rice, use an exercise ball, yoga mat and skipping rope. Smaller portions at school and less/ none pre-mixed instant coffee sachets.

On the up side I am riding Seoul to Busan in two weeks’ time so that should melt some lard. I’m bringing sexy back.