My Korean adventure

All of the admin and paperwork is really taking its toll.

Actually I applied twice to Korean  companies last year.

EPIK is the official company which finds positions for EFL teachers in Korea. Their form is more than twenty pages long, and it’s notorious for me of the questions asked. For example, it asks how many units of alcohol you drink, and then there is a whole page about tattoos and piercing. You might wonder what kind of job you are applying for…

Then when I had my first phone interview with the EPIK co-ordinator (at 6am GMT), he simply went over the same questions that were on the form. He told me that all the questions were ok but that I would still need to have another interview. But the next Monday I received an email from them explaining that they would not be taking the application further.

Then I applied for a position through Korvia, an agency which works for schools in the Gyeonghi Do area. I had a really nice phone call with one of the representatives and all was going well until they asked for a certificate that I didn’t have and wasn’t able to provide.

This year I decided to apply for a different position. If you don’t find a position in a Korean public school the other option is to work for a Hagwon, which is a private teaching academy. Now if you search any websites which cover EFL teaching  in Korea. you’ll find that most have nothing but bad things to say about Hagwons. From the hours that you have to work (split shifts) to the failure of the institutes to provide medical cover, complaints are legion.

Still. I really want to work in South Korea. I don’t particularly like the idea of working a few hours in the morning and then having a big gap in the afternoon. Then again, I’m sure I can deal with that. The one concern is that Pagoda Hagwon haven’t provided a contract yet. I have also been told that they don’t give any housing allowance. All of this is much less than I had hoped for but it’s not enough to make me abandon my plans just yet.

What do you think? Have you had any experience of working for a Korean teaching academy? 

Jeon Do-yeon – a profile of Korea’s number 1 actress

For five years, Do-yeon toiled away in Korean dramas, the likes of which have been long forgotten.

Yet her first film, Contact (1997), was an instant success. Starring alongside Han Sukkyu, Doyeon’s direct and warm personality endeared herself to audiences. It was perfect casting for her. The film was a response to the internet and the potential it offered for romance. Showing how much more advanced Korea was when it came to technology, it was made two years earlier than You’ve Got Mail. The film remains more than a period piece due to its story of people who meet online first and then in person.


In 1999, she gave two very different performances. The first was as a love-struck student and her adoration for her teacher; the second was as the adulterous wife of a laid-off businessman. Now these performances could hardly be more opposed. it was Harmonium that saw play a 17 year old girl, when she was already 27 at the time of filming. Yet if you look a bit closer you can find some similarities.

harm     fdds

For one thing, they both look female sexuality in a very interesting way. Both characters are actively pursuing men, rather than playing more traditional and passive roles. In Harmonium, it is the school girl who goes after her teacher and shows him how strong her feelings are. The contented ending is of course not found in the film Happy End, with its bitterly ironic, tragic ending. The actress’s round, angelic face is fully exploited in the first film, but she is much more of a woman in Happy End.

In the film Untold Scandal, Do-yeon was unforgettable as a virtuous woman who finds herself unable to resist the predatory advances of Cho-Won. Now she was dressed in silks and decorous long dresses of the Joseon Dynasty but the actress revealed a deep sense of eroticism later on in the film. The actress had shown that she could film sex scenes in Happy End,  but playing a virginal woman convincingly was surely harder. The lady, who had been played by Michelle Pheiffer in Dangerous Liaisons, was a fascinating study by Doyeon into feminine chastity and virtue.


And then along came Secret Sunshine. As a woman who lost everything, the film was as tragic as it’s possible to get. The film was her most challenging role so far and it gave her a Cannes award for her trouble.

It became a common thing for Jeon Do-Jeon to die in her films, and this trend continued with the melodramatic Housemaid (하녀).


Here, her character was unknowing and naïve in the extreme. It was an extremely over th film in many ways with many distasteful scenes, but Dohyun kept it tethered to the ground, and made a touching mother figure to the family’s precocious daughter.

Another film, The Way Home (2013), showed her as a mother in a drugs smuggling operation going horribly wrong. The film would have been unbearable to watch if it wasn’t for the humanity that she brought to the role.

The Shameless (2015), showed a quite different side to her as a hard-drinking, cursing woman married to a crime boss. Even though the film wasn’t very interesting, she most definitely was, as someone who has usually played housewives this was the first time she had lowered herself so far. Her well-known eroticism was really to the foreground here.


Already in her forties, a time when many actresses disappear from the screen, she has shown few signs of slowing down.

Her most recent film was A Man and a Woman (2016), which showed her again in the role of unfaithful wife. She is now acting in the Korean TV drama The Good Wife (굿 와이프), but more films should be on the way, she is simply too good an actress to stay in television.




Speaking about her career, Dohyun has said one of the most gracious things about acting I have heard from a movie actress:

 I enjoy acting so much that I have no need or desire to be called a great actor. This is partly my personality, but also the fact that I get so absorbed in acting, to where I can’t see or think of anything else. I can’t tell you what great acting is, but for me, it is to give everything you have with honesty, sincerity and persistence.

 As she grows older, she becomes more interesting. Her face shows no sign of surgery, and she still gets top billing even in a culture which values youth above everything else. The result is that she is, and will always be, the most interesting of Korean actress.


Men Without Women

Haruki Murakami: Men Without Women

Another Murakami book has been published, with this one being  his fourth collection of short stories.

I had a rush of excitement when I opened the cover and started reading the first story. Murakami creates a world of mystery in the most ordinary of settings. He can write the most ordinary of sentences, and then switch things up a gear with just a few words.

For example: “At any rate, his lucky life continued for some thirty years, a long time, when you think about it. But one day, he fell in love.”

Now, that’s a great sentence isn’t it? And it’s the same throughout the book, with these knockout lines coming out of nowhere.

Although we’ve become familiar with his world of Tokyo night owls, jazz and strange phone calls, its as though Murakami has deliberately removed any traces of the quirkiness of his famous novels.

The women seem to have come out of forties noir films and the male characters are tougher than usual. Murakami has always had an affinity with American authors and the book’s title recalls the same name of a collection of stories written by Hemingway.

What we get here are seven stories which test the short story format to its limit but nearly always succeed. Four of the stories, which appeared in the New Yorker are included, the knock-out here being Kino. The prose is as crisp as ever. Sample sentence: ‘There was a girl Kitaru had known since they were in elementary school together.’  This being Murakami, its going to be the kind of sentence that alerts us that things are going to become interesting. In Yesterday, the Murakami-like character remembers a friend who deliberately apes the working class Kansai dialect. He also sings Beatles songs. Things become highly intriguing when Kitamuru suggests to Tanimura that he start dating his girlfriend since he is too busy with his exams to be able to concentrate on dating her.

Here’s another one from Kino:

‘Kino remembered the first time the man had come to the bar.’

Kino starts with the most basic of ideas, of a man being left by his wife, and takes us on the most extraordinary journey. Many of his stories have a film-like quality (although directors have struggled to get his work to translate on screen. But Kino (which is German for cinema) would probably make for a great thriller. There’s a jazz bar, which only has two customers, and a sexy woman covered in cigarette burns whom Kino sleeps with. Then the story gets darker:

‘Fall came, and the cat disappeared. Then the snakes started to show up.’

The story is laced with a ready- made soundtrack of jazz records, where the  music is described to enable us to almost hear it being played: ‘Kino sat on a stool and listened to the Coleman Hawkins LP with the title track “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” He found the bass solo amazing.”

Those of us who have read Murakami’s work will also find his solos amazing. Although I only wish that the last story Men without Women could have been stronger. Not only stronger, but with more direction. It’s about a man who remembers a relationship he had with a woman who has just killed herself. Only the way Murakami describes it is not as interesting as any of the other stories. I got the feeling that even Murakami wasn’t sure where he was going with that one.

But what a collection otherwise. I felt as though some of these experiences had happened to me, and maybe there are universal truths here that everyone can relate to. A short story can feel like the writer didn’t have enough ideas for a book but only a few scraps of story ideas. But there’s more than enough here. And like a lost lover, we remember the stories long after the affair is over.

Murakami’s novels are usually about lonely characters


The problem with Korean women

It had all started so well.
Recently I got speaking to a nice Korean girl and we were getting on so well that we exchanged numbers and got Kakao talk ids. Instead of calling it a day we continued talking and I asked if she wanted to go on somewhere. The cinema was down the road, so we went in and watched Beauty and the Beast.

I didn’t kiss her but I congratulated myself on a successful operation.  We met again for coffee. Then after a few days of back and forth texting, I got what I always dread. the cold shoulder. After just a few days, the girl had gone from someone I considered a potential date to a ghost.

I’ve noticed a pattern recently and it applies to Korean girls of a certain age. They will appear interested in you but once you’ve been out a few times they will give you the cold shoulder. Every time this has happened I’ve been left scratching my head and wondering why.

In some ways, technology has made things more complicated. You can get a girls’s information on a multitude of apps. The old asking phone number routine is obsolete because its possible to find almost anyone on line with just a name.

But the difference with social media ( and this may be why girls feel more comfortable with it) is that it’s possible to block someone in ways impossible with a telephone number.

So what does this mean for guys? Well, my advice is to tread carefully. Even if a girl you like gives you her number and seems friendly, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she likes you, or wants to continue anything with you.

The harsh reality is that Korean girls can from my experience be as flaky as any woman (maybe more so); it doesn’t help that they will also give you their number because they don’t want to appear rude (I think this is the greatest difference between Asian and Western women).

Lastly, be careful of the message apps. They’re great for staying in touch but the possible mistakes you can make are endless. The dreaded 1 that appears not to a sent message is responsible over whether they have read your message and are just ignoring is the reason for much of my recent paranoia. It might be best to restrict any meaningful communication to the real world.

Meantime, it’s starting to look as though dating Korean women is not everything it’s been cracked up to be.