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Why Prep?

A blog of my 10 years in Korea
by Leon of Leon's Planet

You are visitor number


Dear Reader:
I tell it like is.  I hold nothing back.  I'm as straight as an arrow.  If you want the full, unmitigated, unadulterated truth about life in Korea (good and bad), then you've come to the right place.
Now, please understand that I am biased.  I do like Korea (overall).  I mean why the heaven do you think I made Korea my home for ten years?
PG-Rated:  Parental Guidance suggested (There are a few bad words, but they are necessary to the narrative;  I wouldn't use them if I didn't have to.)

Table of Contents

On This Page My Other Pages
Related to Life in Korea

I.  Intro
II.  Pre-Korea
III.  The First Year:  Year of Culture Shock
IV.  The Second Year:  Year of Opposition
V.  The Third Year:  Year of Completion
VI.  The Fourth Year:  Year of Mortality
VII.  The Fifth Year:  Year of Immortality
VIII.  The Sixth Year:  Year of Procreation
IX.  The Seventh Year:  Year of Sabbatical
X.  The Eighth Year:  Year of New Beginnings
XI.  The Ninth Year:  Year of Pangs
XII.  The Tenth Year:  Year of Starting Over
Also on this page:
XII.  Korean Food
XIII.  Korean Night Life
XIV.  Korean Eccentricities
XV.  Why I think I'm Korean
XVI.  My Korean WebRings

Dealing with Bad Korean Bosses
(A how-to guide)

Dictionary Errors in Korea

Learn Basic Korean Language

Learn Konglish (what it means)

Learn 100 Korean Food Names

The Origin of the Korean People

The Origin of the Korean Script




I went to Korea for the first time June 25, 1995.  I stayed for a year.  Then, I went home for a couple months to find another (better) job in Korea.  I came back in August 1996.  I stayed in Korea until early 2002, when I decided to emigrate to the UK.  Actually, I could only stay for two months and so I came back to Korea.  Then, in August 2003, I decided to spend a year in China.  I came back to Korea in July 2004.  I left Korea in July of 2006.  Will I ever go back?  Yes, probably.  Korea, despite what anyone says about it, is a good place to make money, if one knows how, and if one is lucky.


Before going to Korea, I knew nothing about Korea, except that it was in the Far East and that there was a  Korean war that we (the US) were involved in around 1950.  I secured a job in Korea before actually stepping on a plane.  I decided I'd better study a little Korean.  It was difficult.  The best I could do was memorize a few sentences, like:  the greeting (anyeonghashimnigga), thank you (kamsahamnida), and how much is it (eolmaimnigga), as well as: numbers 1-100.  The tricky thing was that Korean has TWO number systems, and I didn't know which one was more used.  So, I tried to memorize both of them.  I didn't learn 'till later that there are strict rules regarding the usage of the two number systems.  {You can learn basic Korea on my site:  go there.}

The First Year:  Year of Culture Shock

From June 1995 to July 1996.

My first job was at a children's English hagweon (That's Korean for "academy").  I had one adult class in the evening, but the rest were elementary-aged children.  I was the only native English-speaking teacher there.  Evidently there was one before me, but he was "let go" for reasons that I don't exactly know, except that he was not liked by the hagweon owner.  I didn't complain.  I was happy to have the job.  You see, I'm a teacher by profession and I can't tell you how hard it was to find a job as a teacher in Utah.  It seems to be the profession of choice for Mormon women, 'cause they can work and have their families.  I was in debt up to my eyeballs and I needed the job.  So, I was happy to replace whomever it was that I replaced.

I was, however, in for many shockers!  When I asked about the students' levels, my boss just said that they are all beginners.  "Great!" I thought.  "Didn't they learn anything from the previous teacher?" I asked.  "Not much" came the reply.  When I asked about the curriculum, he said that I could make my own.  "Double Great!"  I thought.  When I asked about materials, he said that I could make my own.  "Triple Great!"  I thought.

[By the way, when Koreans offer "training", what they mean is "orientation", so keep that in mind].

So, there I was, in a foreign country... didn't speak the language... with no curriculum and no materials.  Luckily I was an expert in the content (because it was my native tongue) and I was a trained teacher.  Those two things were my saving graces.  But, the shock was just beginning...

Getting jabbed in the anus by a little kindergartener was pretty shocking.  Koreans call it 똥침 (ddong chim), which loosely translated means:  "poop push".  Evidently the whole idea of a "poop push" was started by some comedian on TV and it became a national pastime amongst little children.  I, of course, was not privy to that information, and you can imagine my shock when I turned around to write something on the board and some unknown object (which turned out to be a kid's finger) was inserted into my anus.  I about hit the ceiling (both literally and figuratively).  Naturally, I was furious.  I immediately reported the perpetrator of such a heinous invasion of my personal private parts to the owner of the hagwon.  He just laughed and explained that it means that the kid likes me.  I said, "Well, tell him I don't like it."

The video cameras in every classroom made me nervous.  I felt like I was being spied upon.  When I asked about the video cameras, I was told that they were for the parents to watch their children learning from the foreign teacher.  I felt a bit relieved ('cause the parents almost NEVER came in), but still a little nervous.  One of the reasons I was nervous was that the only two things the kids learned from me was "sit down" and "be quiet!"  It wasn't from a lack of trying.  It was from a lack of motivation on the part of the students.  They just did NOT want to learn English.  The only reason they were there, is because their parents made them go.  On the other hand, I learned a heck of a lot of Korean from my students.  Looking back, I wouldn't have wanted to teach adults.  Adults never speak Korean in the English classroom.  I wouldn't have been able to learn Korean as quickly as I did.

By the way, I used to think that learning Spanish was difficult in high school, but learning Korean was a hundred times more difficult than Spanish to learn.  However, having learned a foreign language already, I picked up Korean rather quickly.  That's not to say that it was effortless.  Heck no!  I would go home after work and spend two to three hours a night studying Korean.  I used to carry a Korean-English dictionary to and from work and use it to read all the sign boards (both neon and not).

Even before I ever heard of Krashen, I believed in a comprehensible-input approach, so I used what I learned of Korean to assist me in teaching the children (and assist them in learning English).  But, when it comes right down to it, by the end of the first year, I was light years ahead of the kids in learning the target language.  (Their target language was English, mine was Korean).

That just goes to show how much motivation plays a part in language acquisition.  From the moment I stepped off the plane, and saw all the gorgeous Korean women, I decided that knowing the lingo would be a great benefit to getting me a Korean wife.  I did finally get me a Korean wife, but... well that's another story... four years later.

The Second Year:  Year of Opposition

From September 1996 to August 1997.

One might ask why I didn't stay with my first boss and his company.  To put it simply, he was a miser.  He refused to give me my raise promised in the contract.  Pay was often late (and I don't know why... he had tons of students and only two foreign teachers).  He didn't pay overtime.  So, I went back to the states at the end of my contract and looked for another job.  I found one on the Isle of GangHwa, off the coast of Incheon, just across a narrow stretch of sea from North Korea.  I didn't care that it was an island, full of farmers and two hours from civilization, and literally minutes from the infamous DMZ.  It paid more.  (And remember, my previous boss, although he wanted me to stay, refused to give me a raise).  So, I took the job.  

I was in for some tons of opposition...

The institute owner (or CEO) was a woman who had majored in English education.  She was an old maid, but an attractive one, and I, being a single guy who had determined to marry a Korean woman, was pleasantly surprised to find out that she was unmarried.  Well, at first I was pleased.  We started off on good-footing, so to speak, but things became quite sour after a couple months (or less).

[Parenthetically, a lot happened that year, most of it bad, so forgive me if this seems a bit disjointed, but I will attempt to relate the events in chronological order to best of my ability.]

No less than a week after moving into a house that our boss had rented, it was broken into and all my cash that I had saved up after my first year in Korea was stolen.  My passport and other valuables were all accounted for.  The thief only took my cash, including a role of American quarters that I had brought from the States for my students (as gifts).  The police came and filed a report, but nothing was done.  No investigation was carried out.  There were muddy footprints all over the floor, which the police could have taken photos of and tried to match with people's shoes in the neighborhood, but no...!  Nothing was done.  No fingerprinting or photography was done.  NOTHING!!!  The police were so VERY apathetic and did absolutely nothing to try and solve the crime.  It was like the police (whom I don't imagine were very busy, 'cause every time I went to the police station it was full of police doing nothing except collecting paychecks)...  as I was writing...  it was like the police were saying, "Welcome to Korea, the land of thieves who can walk into your homes and steal whatever they want and never get caught."  If it seems like I'm bitter about the whole affair, it is because I AM!!!!!  And if I'm this bitter after eight years, imagine how I felt at the time!

Moral of the story:  Korean law enforcement = oxymoron.

[A little background information about myself is needed before I relate the next story.  I was born and raised as a good, devout Mormon.  I was still believing and living my religion at the time (in Ganghwa).  As I write this narrative, I no longer claim any affiliation with the Mormon religion.  I'm like the frog that escaped from the well.  But, that's another story.  The following story takes place in 1996, when I was still a Mormon.]

Well, I had two pastors in my adult classes, and one of them asked me what my religion was (or if I had one and then what it was).  I, of course, told him, not thinking anything of it.  Mormons do believe that their religion is the only true one, and they like to try to "save" others, but they also recognize appropriate times and places to discuss religion.  The classroom is NOT the right place, and lesson time is NOT the right time, so that was the end of the discussion.  Like I had a chance of a snowball in hell of converting a pastor anyways.

Well, the next day I was called into the teachers' room for a private conference with the boss.  She started off by saying, "I heard that you were talking about religion in class."  I, of course, denied it, because I didn't talk about religion at all.  I was shocked at being accused falsely and wanted to know whom my accuser was.  She told me, "Many students were complaining," which was a flat-out lie, because no one complained.  Some of them may have mentioned the incident in passing conversation, but no one complained.  She was hyper-sensitive about the issue, because she was a devout Methodist, and her pastor was the one who asked me the question, and... (forgive me for the run-on sentence) he was probably the one who mentioned it to her.  So, she then, said, "You told your students that you are a Mormon."  I said, "Yeah.  So what?  That's not talking about religion.  AND," I added, "I was asked by the pastor.  What was I supposed to do?  Lie?  Is that what Jesus Christ would have wanted me to do?"  She then, forbade me from ever telling anyone that I was a Mormon or from ever talking about religion again, not only in class, but EVER, so long as I was in her employ.

Naturally, I was livid.  She had no right.  Not even in Korea.  But I had experience with the Korean law enforcement and knew that I had to bite my lip and take her insulting and unrighteous dominion with a grain of salt and a cup of sugar.

From that point on, things only got worse.

Every time ONE student would say something that she didn't like, (not necessarily being a complaint, mind you), she would call me into the teachers' room for a conference, and she'd say that the students are complaining again... and again... and again...  The so-called complaints were SO petty, too.  I could tell you story after story, but I'll spare you the details.  Suffice it to say that she was a worry-wart and an old school "marm", with extremely out-dated ideas about education, not to mention the fact that she had a warped conception of the English language, e.g. she thought that the English language was much more rigid than it actually is.  {Meaning:  she would try to correct MY English!!!!!  Can you believe that?????}

She was also worried that the school might lose students.  Now, let me state for the record that I never lost a single student all year, and in fact the schools' enrollments continually went up and the school had to hire more teachers.

So, not only was I pissed off about my boss insulting my religion and restricting my freedom of speech unduly, she was constantly on my case about inane things that never caused anyone to stop taking my class.  Well, there was one student who stopped taking my class, but that wasn't not my fault.  It was the kid's and her fault.  Now get this... this is an incredible story... you won't believe this.

As Korean hagwon bosses are prone to do, my boss frequently changed my schedule (and all the teachers' schedules) without a decent notice (i.e., she informed us on the day before the change was to take effect, even though she and the students knew well before).  She also seemed to like playing "musical chairs" with the classes.  So, I got this new class of third-graders.  Nobody knows why the classes had to be switched.  Well, if somebody knew why, I wasn't privy to such information.  So, this class of third-graders evidently decided that they didn't like me from the start.  Best I can figure, they liked their former teacher and didn't want to leave.  As far as I can tell, their anger was collectively transferred upon me, the innocent victim.  I have experienced middle-school students (in the States) "gang up on" me for various things, but THIRD-graders?!!!!!  And, I didn't do anything to them!  They were so belligerent.  Wouldn't participate in class until I threatened to send them out.  Then, they did what I asked, but so drama-king-like-begrudgingly that I was beside myself with awe.  I tried to gain their trust and make English fun, but they were determined to hate me.

Then, we got a new student.  She had no idea what was going on, and she participated lively.  She seemed to enjoy my lessons.  She must have noticed some bad vibes between the other students and me, if not consciously, at least unconsciously, but she never said anything.  She just did her work and participated in a very congenial manner.  The other students were still being their ol' stubborn and belligerent selves.

One day, I asked the students to do some task (don't remember what it was)... probably write something.  The one boy in the class immediately called me a shi-bbahl nohm (시빨 놈), which loosely translated means:  "fucking asshole".  I write "loosely translated" because nohm doesn't really have a translation in English, but asshole carries the same connotation.

My jaw hit the floor in absolute awe.  I couldn't believe my ears.  I knew what it meant, because I had asked my Korean friends to teach me all the bad words in Korean.  Still, I did nothing to this little boy to deserve such an abrasive cursing.  I heard it clear as could be, because besides a little rustling of papers and materials there wasn't another sound in the classroom when he said it.  After he said it, the room became completely silent.  Not a pencil moved.  All eyes were riveted on me (except the boy's) to see how I would handle the situation.  The little boy (whom I'd like to call a "little shit", but won't) had resolved not to do the task, had his arms folded and his head bowed looking down at his notebook as if to say, "I'm not doing anything you say, and you can't make me."

I picked my jaw off the floor and asked, "What did you say?"  And, he said it again!  Then, my shock and disconcertedness turned to furry.  But, I remained collected and calm.  I slowly sauntered over to behind the boy's seat.  I place his trapeziums between my thumbs and index fingers, and I applied only minimal pressure as a warning.  Then, I tested his resolve.  I said, "Say that again."  He did!  Can you believe that?  So, I squeezed, not enough to actually cause pain, but to give a certain amount of discomfort, for perhaps this boy wasn't getting the message, and I wanted to be perfectly clear.  Then, I said, "Say that again."  He did!  So, I squeezed as hard as a could.  Tears started to roll down his cheeks.  I said, "Say that again."  He did!

I had HAD IT!  That was the last straw.  I wanted that boy out.  I escorted him to the front desk and announced that I didn't want that boy in my class any more.  The boss (Ms Koh) asked, "Why not?"  I didn't want to get into it with her.  I just said that he was bad.  She insisted on knowing what he did, and I mean she insisted!  So, I said that he had said a bad word, thinking that that would be the end of it and she would reprimand the boy.  Yet, she demanded to know what the boy had said.  I said that it was so bad that I couldn't repeat it.  She (if you can believe this) demanded to know what the boy had said.  So, against my better judgment, I said it.

She got that frown on her face that people get when something happens that is bothersome and irksome.  She said, "Okay, lets go," and she took the boy back to the classroom.  My immediate thought was, "Why the hell are you escorting him back to the classroom?"  But, I went with it, just to see where this was going.  The hagwon owner (Ms Koh) asked the class if the boy had said a bad word (in Korean, of course), but remember by this time I had the basics of the Korean language down pat.  No one answered.  I was livid.  Those little monsters weren't going to rat out their classmate, and I could see that this wasn't going anywhere in any direction that I wanted it to go.  She asked again, a lot more compellingly.  The "new" girl, the one that liked me, said, "Yes, he did."  Okay!  Score!  Two points for me.  Zero for the little ____ .  Then, the school "marm" (Ms Koh) turned to the boy and asked him what he said.  The little shit, (oops!  I'm sorry, I wrote that I wouldn't call him that) lied.  He said that he had said, "shi bbang", which sounds a lot like "shi-bbal", but is nothing but meaningless crap.  It would be like me saying, "Friggin' Ash-hole" instead of "Fucking Asshole", only that's NOT what he said.  The school "marm" (Ms Koh) turned back to the girl who acknowledged the impropriety, and asked, "Is that what you heard?"  She denied it.  She said that he said what I said he said.  Then the school "marm" (Ms Koh) got really indignant and told the poor, little, innocent girl that she was wrong and that the boy had only said, "Shi BBang".  My jaw hit the floor again.  Only this time it hurt like hell (oops!  I mean:  "...like heck!").

I gave that witch of a school marm a piece of my mind and stormed out slamming the door behind me, and I did not teach the rest of the period.  I'm sure that if Mormons could smoke, I would have picked up smoking right then and there, had I not done so, yet.

That, amazingly, was the end of the story.  I never saw the boy again the whole time I lived in Ganghwa, which is a good thing, too, because he may have ended up in a pine box floating out to sea.  (I'm being facetious, of course.  In truth, he may have ended up with very sore trapeziums).

After that, I decided to find another job, but back then, nobody had internet.  I didn't even have an email account.  I was still sending letters home by snail mail.  Finding a job back then was a lot more difficult and time-consuming than it is now.

The Third Year:  Year of Completion

From August 1997 to August 1998.

I found a better job in Seoul, teaching only adults for a lot more money.  I was on top of the world.  The third year was a pretty good year.  I learned a lot of Korean by taking classes in my free-time.  I saved a lot of money.  I went to Viet Nam for a week with some of the money I saved up.  And, I re-signed for a second year with that institute.  The only bad thing was the recession that hit in December of 1997, but that didn't affect me much, 'cause I wasn't sending money home.

In all, my assimilation into Korean culture, language, cuisine, and society became complete.

The Fourth Year:  Year of Mortality

From August 1998 to August 1999.


In case you don't know, in ancient middle-eastern numerology, 2 means opposition, 3 means completion, and 4 means mortality (or death).  The interesting thing is in the Far East, 4 also means death.  That's why you don't see any elevators indicating the number "4".  In fact, many buildings will skip the fourth floor altogether.  I'll never forget going to see a friend for the first time.  He had told me that he lived on the fourth floor.  There was no elevator.  So, I went up the steps.  On the second floor, I saw the numbers 201 and 202.  On the third floor, I saw 301 and 302.  On the fourth floor, I saw 501 and 502.  Naturally, I figured I had gone one flight too many.  I didn't remember passing the fourth floor, but I was preoccupied with other things and I figured I could have missed the fourth floor.  So, I went down a flight of stairs and saw 301 and 302.  Okay!  I wasn't freaked out yet.  I was pissed off.  I thought, "Dang it!  I missed the fourth floor again!"  I went back up, cussing up a storm the whole way.  501 again!  Okay, maybe I'm really slow, but I was sure that there was a fourth floor, because my friend had told me that he lived on the fourth floor.  I thought that there might be an annex or something.  So, I was all looking for hidden doors to the fourth floor.  I went down half a flight of stairs.  No door!  That would have been a good time for a cigarette, but I hadn't taken up smoking yet.  I went from pissed off to freaked out.  I tried to think logically.  Either my friend was wrong, or the person who put the numbers on doors of the building was smoking some bad weed when he numbered the doors.  A couple other options occurred to me, like it being a bad dream.  But, I had never run out of breath going up and downstairs in a dream before, so I ruled that one out.  I actually went outside to count the floors.  There were only four floors.  I looked for an annex.  There was none.  The laws of physics seemed to cease to exist in this building.  Have you ever seen the movie: CUBE 2?  Well, that's what it was like.  Then, my friend came home and we went up to the fourth floor, room 502.

The fourth year:

My fourth year was full of "death":  the death of my faith, the death of my innocence, the death of my single life.  I married a beautiful Korean woman on May 1, 1999, against the admonitions of my Korean astrologer.  He said that I should wait until 2002 to get married.  I didn't want to wait that long, but I should have hearkened unto his warning.

The Fifth Year:  Year of Immortality

From August 1999 to August 2000.


In ancient middle-eastern numerology, the number 5 represents triumph over death: immortality.  They say that two things are always certain:  death and taxes.  That's true.  But, we overcome death but passing our genetic material onto our children.

The fifth year:

My son was born on April 18, 2000.  It was the happiest day of my life.  He had his mother's eyes and my ears.

The Sixth Year:  Year of Creation

From August 2000 to August 2001.


The gods created the heaven and the earth and all the inhabitants thereof in six days.  That's why the number 6 represents creation.

The sixth year:

During this year, my creative juices began to flow and I created this website.  It started out as an English educational website for my students.  Then, it grew into something for EFL teachers in Korea.  Then, I expanded it to include all English learners world-wide and something for Expatriates around the world as well.

I guess I had to be extremely creative to learn to be a full-time worker and a full-time dad.  It was a very, very difficult time for me and my son, as his mother left us.  I don't like it but Koreans tend to blame me.  But, let me tell you some things:

1.  She came to me with nothing but the clothes on her back a couple suitcases of clothes.  I paid for the whole wedding, for her whole new wardrobe, including her wedding dress.  I paid for all the housing and all the appliances.

2.  In Korean culture, the woman (and/or her family) is supposed to pay for half of the wedding.  The bride is supposed to bring money in the bank, and pay for all the household goods/appliances/furniture.

3.  In Korean culture, the woman is supposed to be a good mother.  In fact, her duty to her children comes before her husband, but she is supposed to be a good wife, too.

4.  She not only left her only healthy son, but left her loving husband who took her from the gutter and made her into a princess.  AND, she stole money from me.

Yeah... I had to be creative to figure out what to do once she just left one day and never came back.


The Seventh Year:  Year of Sabbatical

From August 2001 to August 2002


After creating the heavens and the Earth for six periods ("days"),  the gods (elohim) rested on/during the seventh period.  So, the seventh period has been dubbed "the Sabbath" (the period of rest).  

The seventh year:

My seventh year in Korea was anything BUT a sabbatical.  God rested on the seventh day.  But, he also took my wife from me in the sixth year, leaving me with a heck of a lot of work to do in the seventh year.  I'm trying to rack my brain to think of how I can think of my seventh year as a sabbatical.  I guess I did take a two month sabbatical to the UK.  It was supposed to be for a much longer period of time... an indefinite period of time, actually; but, things didn't work out the way I had planned, and I ended up back in Korea.

I guess that two months in the UK was my sabbatical.

The rest of my seventh year, was anything but restful, being a full-time employee and a full-time dad.

The Eighth Year:  Year of New Beginnings.

From August 2002 to August 2003


When God destroyed the world by The Great Deluge, he started fresh with 8 souls: Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives (or so the story goes).  That's why the number 8 represents new beginnings.

The eighth year:

I spent most of this year in serious contemplation about the course of my life.  I didn't like my life in Korea any more.  Korea is NOT a very nice place to raise a child by one's self.  I decided to go elsewhere.  I contemplated a new beginning in many other countries.  Finally, I decided to accept a job in Inner Mongolia, the semi-autonomous region of China.

I mentioned that Korea is NOT a very nice place to raise a child by one's self.  I'd like to extrapolate on that a bit.  After the recession of 1997-1998, our English academy began to suffer financially.  Our boss did everything to try and save the academy, except advertise (which would have been my first choice, but, hey, who I am I, right?).  He reduced staff, eventually letting all the Korean staff go and keeping only the foreign teachers.  By 2001, after constantly losing money (and blaming me for my poor teaching, Ha!), he decided to close down the academy, leaving the only money-maker, the TSE program.  That left one foreign teacher (not I).  Since my boss had a contract with me, he moved me over to his publishing company and had me write English materials (none of which he published after two years of working for him in such capacity; go figure!).  My salary was frequently late, and got to the point where the company owed me two months back salary and my bonus.  This was unacceptable, not only because it was a breach of contract, (which none of the other staff had, but got paid), but because I was a foreigner, living in a foreign country, without any family or means of support, AND, I had an infant to raise.  Not knowing where my next meal would be coming from was something of a stressful situation (to put it mildly), but not being able to feed my baby was totally unacceptable and beyond reproach for an employer to treat a contract employee that way.  Fearing that I might not get my money, I had to pull strings with friends in high places (always good to have friends in high places).  I eventually got my money, but I decided never to work for such a crook again in my life.  In fact, I will never work for a private English academy again in my life, if I can help it.  If you are looking into working for a private English academy, please see my "Advice" page.

When looking for a job in China, I purposefully avoided any jobs for private English academies.  I chose a job working at a high school, 'cause it paid more than most university jobs in China.  I actually got offered over fifty jobs in China.  This was right after the SARS scare, when there was a huge exodus from China, and China embraced an open-door policy to bring the foreigners back.  Still, China is a huge country with plenty of jobs for the adventurous English teacher.  For info about living and working in China, see "ESL in CHiNA".

The Ninth Year:  Year of Pangs

From July 2004 to 2005

Please notice that:  The period from August 2003 to July 2004, I was in China.  See my China Chronicles for my journal/epistles regarding my life in China.


Nine is the number of surmounting trials and tribulations.  I don't know for sure exactly why, but the only association I could make with the number nine is... well...   It kind of hit me one day while reading the Christian Bible, Isaiah 13:8, which reads:  

     And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.

You see?  A woman carries a burden for nine months when she conceives a child.  And, it should be noted that the travail of pregnancy only gets worse as the term of pregnancy progresses, until finally the woman goes through incredible pangs and travail of trying to pass something the size of a cantaloupe melon through a hole about the size of a fifty-cent piece.

The ninth year:  A little background info...

Around late February, early March, I started thinking about my family's future.  My son was getting about the age to start his formal education and I didn't want him to go to a Chinese school (or anything other than an American school, for that matter).  So, being a certified/liscenced teacher, I began to look for a job in an American International School.  I applied to over fifty schools in over twenty different countries.  I started applying to international schools around the globe.  For reasons that I shall not go into, going back to America to teach was NOT, (I repeat, NOT), an acceptable option for me... just in case you were wondering.  I did not know at that time that most international schools complete the hiring process by the first of March, partly because they know that it takes a long time to process the bureaucratic red tape, and partly because, unlike most English academies, international schools are "on the ball".  Still, I was hoping to find a few openings that couldn't be filled.  I found many, but because I lacked the proper qualifications, all but two schools shot me down.

You might be wondering why a certified/licensed teacher, with one year experience in the States and eight years experience teaching EFL would not be qualified.  I have wondered the same thing.  But, despite what common sense dictates, 99% of international schools have this inane requirement of two years experience IN THE SUBJECT AND GRADE LEVEL to be taught.  "You've got to be kidding me!" I thought.  But, yep.  It's true.  So, if you have an notions of working for a reputable international school, and you are currently certified, but don't have two years experience in the position offered, forget it.  You will only meet with the standard form letter:  "We thank you for your interest in our school, but due to lack of qualifications, we cannot offer you a job at this time.  Good luck to you in your job search.  Sincerely, [Idiot of the universe]."

Another thing that I must tell you is that Korea was the last place on Earth that I wanted to go (for personal reasons, not anything political, cultural, or otherwise; it was purely personal, and private, but it had a lot to do with that _itch that left her son a week before his first birthday).

So, what were my two job offers?  One in a Laotian international school, teaching first grade for 800 dollars a year.  Yeah!  Woo-hoo!  You read that right:  800 dollars a year!  I mean one of the reasons for leaving China was because 500 dollars a month wasn't going to pay for my son's university tuition, so, like I was going to take a pay cut.  Nope.  Wasn't going to happen.  The other job offer:  Korea.  Wow!

"Why did you apply to international schools in Korea if you didn't want to go to Korea?" you ask?  Well, I have experience limiting my options and ending up without a job.  So, I left the option of Korea open, as a last resort.  Funny how life works, isn't it?  I went back in the last place on Earth that I wanted to be, ...and enjoyed every minute of it.

In Korea, I have only dated the rudest, crudest, and/or wickedest women.  Some were border-line psychotic (like my ex).  Most of them were neurotic to one degree or another, but who isn't, right?  We all have our little neuroses and eccentricities, but I seem to attract only the worst of Korean women.  So, coming back to Korea was my last choice.

If I can get on my soap box for a little while...  The Korean media these days is making a big deal out of one or two foreign men, English teachers, who womanize Korean women, and prey upon the lonely under-aged Korean girls.  While I find such behavior inexcusable and worthy of having the culprit's gonads torn off with a pair of channel locks, I find that there are far more wicked Korean women than wicked foreign men.  Believe me, I've dated quite a few... the lion's share, perhaps.  How come the Korean media doesn't portray how Korean women just use us foreign men to "Play around" before marriage to a Korean man?  How come the Korean media doesn't portray how Korean ajumas just use foreign men to get back at their cheating husbands?  How come the Korean media doesn't portray the plethora of Korean women who prey upon and take advantage of foreign men's generosities, playing with the men's hearts only to amass valuable gifts and free room and board?  I'll tell you why.  Because the Korean media doesn't care about the foreign men.  It's a huge double standard.  It's okay for Korean women to use, manipulate and take advantage of foreign men, but it's atrocious when a foreign man sleeps with consenting Korean women.



Sorry.  I just had to get that out.

Okay... let's continue with the narrative.

The ninth year begins:

So, I came back to Korea in July.  I couldn't start working until the end of August.  I had to live off of the money that I had saved in China.  Actually, that money was gone in about two or three weeks.  The rest of the time I lived off of the money I had saved living in Korea.  And I was down to my last ten thousand won note when I got my first pay stub.  Financially, things weren't going well.

Korean lines of communication leave everything to be desired.  Yes, if you've lived in Korea for any length of time, you know what I'm talking about.  Korean bosses neglect to inform us of upcoming schedule changes until the day before, even though they've known for weeks (or months).  Korean bosses always neglect to inform us that salaries are going to be late.  They simply don't pay, without a word.  Then, when we inquire about it, they apologize and say that they will pay as soon as they can.  Korean bosses neglect to inform us of upcoming holidays, expecting us to somehow be miraculously aware of the Korean national holidays.  [Note, I'm writing in generalizations, of course.  There are always exceptions to the rule.  Unfortunately, I haven't heard of any myself.  My last job in Korea was better than most, because the manager was a Korean American, who tried to keep us abreast of the latest institute news, but he didn't always get informed himself until the last moment.  So, what can you do?  right?  So, keeping in the tradition of keeping the help on a need-to-know basis only at the last moment, I was kicked out of my apartment with only one day's notice.  Had to spend a month living in somebody else's home while the school tried to find me a new place.  Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't necessarily the school's fault, however I'm learning through the grapevine that the owner of the school definitely knew months before that the building was going to be torn down.  So, I partly blame the school.

Living in someone else's home, especially when that person is a complete stranger, is NOT fun.  I couldn't really cook or shower there, so my son and I had to eat out a lot and bathe in a public bath house.  Needless say write, I lost a lot of money that month.

Work provided me with other problems, mostly students complaining about me for inane reasons.  I wouldn't have minded so much if the administration hadn't given me grief about them.


The Tenth Year:  Year of Unification or Reunification


The number ten in a base ten numbering system is like starting over, but with lots of experience under one's belt.

How apropos!  It would appear that this year has pushed me into starting over in my career and my marriage life. (I reunited with my wife).  Interesting!



Now for some topical pontification on life in Korea...

Korean Food


When I first came to Korea, under contract, I was greeted warmly by my boss and his family.  I was shown to my accommodations.  They were nice... enough.  Then, my boss brought over a bucket full of kim and a bag of rice.  I was shown how to operator the rice cooker that had been graciously provided.  The next morning, my boss brought over a meal that his wife had prepared, which consisted of steamed rice and a couple vegetable side dishes.  He brought out the bucket of kimchi, dished me a huge helping, and sat and watched me eat.  "How do you like the kimchi?" he asked.  I smiled, trying to hold back the tears as I choked down the kimchi, and replied, "Mmm.  Great!"  I think it was the hardest lie of my life.

Well, I'm not one to waste food.  So, over the next month, I forced myself to eat every last leaf of kimchi.  By the time I had finished the whole bucket-full, I was hooked.  I cleaned out the bucket, returned it to my boss and politely asked for more.

Spicy Korean red-hot chili peppers

Korean food is generally quite spicy.  I like spicy food, but I wasn't used to Korean red-hot chili peppers.  In fact, all the vegetables in Korea seem to be zestier than the western varieties.  Take for example the garlic and onions.  In America, I could eat the garlic and onions raw, no problem.  I can't do that in Korea.  I tried.  For at least three years, every time I ate a spicy Korean dish, I'd use about half a roll of toilet paper (Korean napkins) for my nose.  Koreans couldn't understand it...always thought I had a cold.  When I tried to assure them that it wasn't a cold, but rather the spicy food, they thought I was a few cards short of a full deck.

Strange Korean food

My reproachable father, who travels a lot, once told me that the spicier a country's food is, the worse it is.  What he meant was that it tended to consist of things that we don't typically eat in the West, such as insects, animal innards, and strange flora and fauna from the sea.  Well, with regard to Korean food, I cannot say that I agree.  Koreans pretty much like everything spicy.  In fact, if it isn't spicy, some Koreans won't eat it.

But, even the stranger foods are in no way "worse" in my book (this being my book, so to speak).  I find that many of the foods that I once considered "strange" are actually quite appetizing and tantalizing, and veritably have become my staples here in Korea.  I've just finished a book by Bill Bryson entitled: I'm a Stranger Here Myself, wherein he reports from another author, Edward O. Wilson, and his book Diversity of LIfe, as follows:

     Wison notes that of the thirty thousand species of edible plants on earth, only about twenty are eaten in any quantity.  Of these, three species alone--wheat, corn, and rice--account for over half of what the temperate world shovels into its collective gullet.  Of the three thousand fruits known to botany, all but about two dozen are essentially ignored.

I don't know about you, but in my book, that is a rotten shame.  And that was just about Earth's flora.  What about Earth's fauna?  (My apologies to you vegans and vegetarians.  I understand where you are coming from, if you are restricting your diet for religious or political reasons; but as far as I'm concerned, the gods gave me bicuspids along with my incisors and molars, and bicuspids are not for eating plants).  I wouldn't ask a lion to become a vegetarian, nor would I ask a deer to become a carnivore.  I'm an omnivore, and I like it that way.

Dog meat

So, why should I restrict my meat-eating to cows, pigs, chickens and fish?  What about cuttlefish, squid, octopus, snails (both land and sea), and dogs?  Yes, dogs.  I'm not against eating dog meat.  What I am against is the way the dog meat is prepared.  It is brutal, and inhumane.  For more info on the subject, see my Essay Page.

Raw fish

One thing that I have come to love since living in Korea is: raw fish.  Oh, my gods!  It is soooo deeeeelicious!

The first time I had raw fish was in Korea, and it was not a pleasant experience, actually.  As with any new experience, I was a bit nervous, reluctant, and unsure.  Then, they served it, having been sliced while the fish was still alive, head and tail still attached, and gills still moving.  I guess they did that to verify that the fish was fresh.  I personally thought it cruel and would have taken their word that the fish was fresh.  Eating live fish was not my cup of tea... fresh--good... live--bad.  I mean after-all, I think of myself more civilized than a lion or a bear.


Have you ever seen dried squid (or drying squid) hanging in Korean open-air markets?  Well, the first time I saw them, I said to myself, "You won't catch me eating that stuff.  Eeewwww!"  A few months later, my boss gave me some and said, "Try it.  It's good."  I tried it.  And here's the kicker:  I loved it!  I can't get enough of the stuff.  Koreans eat the stuff in a variety of dishes, besides dried.





Korean Night Life

Korean night life has a lot to offer (in the big cities).  In fact, I found that in other cities around the world, I was bored, but I was never bored in Seoul, Korea.  

Night Clubbing

In 1995, when I first came here (Korea), I was told that there was a 1:00AM curfew.  Some people refute that there was at that time, but that's what I was told.  Maybe only certain areas had curfews, and the area where I lived had one.  I don't know.  What I do know is that bars and night clubs were not allowed to operate past midnight on week nights and 1am on weekends.  That law remained in affect until about the year 2000 (or thereabouts, I can't remember the exact date).  Then, bars and night clubs could operate legally all night long.  I think it is good not to restrict the freedom of commerce with curfews and such.  Live and let live, I say.  However, with recent anti-English-teacher sentiments and long-term anti-American military sentiments, it is wise to be careful.  I trust you to use your own good judgment in these matters, so I'll leave it at that.


One thing to be aware of when going clubbing in Korea is you have to buy food when you drink.  The food you buy is NOT necessarily a meal, but it is mandatory in most bars/pubs/taverns and clubs.  Like, for example, you could order a fruit platter or a platter of dry food like peanuts and dried squid.  It is NOT cheap.  Plan on spending a lot of money at Korean bars/pubs/taverns and clubs.

The only exceptions would be...

1.  In Jongno and Hongdae, certain bars/clubs (for poor university students) offer drinks without having to buy food.
2.  Itaewon bars/clubs.   (These do not include hostess bars, and I'm warning you not to go to the hostess bars.)
3.  Cocktail bars (or in general, when sitting AT THE BAR, one is not expected to order food).



Korean Eccentricities

If you've been here a while (more than a year), then you've noticed quite a few Korean eccentricities.  I'm not saying that they are good or bad.  What might be acceptable in one culture might not be in another.  I implore you to keep this in mind and don't judge Koreans by your own standard.  In fact, I don't know that there is a veritable righteous standard that can be applied to all human cultures, except for certain basic rules of human decency regarding behavior towards others.  Even then, we risk intruding upon cultural definitions of "decency".

Of course, what I call "Korean eccentricities" are not eccentricities to Koreans: only to me, as an outsider.

Another thing to keep in mind, and I think this is very important:  not all Koreans are the same.  It might seem trite to say so.  But, I've found that what is not acceptable to one Korean, may be totally acceptable to another.  A good example of this is regarding the making of noise while eating.  The one thing that I think ALL Koreans can agree upon is there should be little talking during the appetizer and NO TALKING during the main course (rice or noodles).  However, Koreans disagree upon whether it is polite to slurp, burp, or clank silverware during the meal.  The funny thing is:  most Korean men tell me that it is polite to do so, and most Korean women tell me that it is impolite to do so.  Cracks me up!

List of Other eccentricities:

1.  Everything eaten before the rice (or rice product, like: noodles or occasionally dumplings) is considered the appetizer.  Korean appetizers can take as long as an hour to consume.

2.  The main course consists of either rice (called "bab" in Korean; "fa" in Chinese (Butonghwa), noodles (called "myeon" in Korean; "meng" in Chinese Butonghwa), or wontons/dumplings (called "mandu" in Korea; "jiao zi" in Chinese Butonghwa).  Thus, no matter how much you have eaten, unless you eat rice or noodles, (or wontons), you have NOT had a meal, in the collective Korean mentality.  This is why they ask, "Have you eaten rice today?"

3.  Koreans must sit down together and leave together from a meal.  It is considered extremely rude to excuse one's self early (except in emergency).

4.  Unless offering food to one's dead ancestors, it is considered very rude to leave chopsticks sticking out of the rice.

5.  In Korean mentality:  A male person is NOT a "man" until he has married and sired a child.  Likewise, a female person is not a "woman" until she has married and given birth to a child.

6.  Men may smoke outside, but women may not.  {as progressive as Korea is, this is still a cultural taboo (women's smoking in the 'out-of-doors' is still taboo in Korea, even in Seoul}.

7.  Koreans don't marry for love, they marry for money, security, social prestige, and jeongJeong is a Korean word which is difficult to translate.  It is like friendship (in my opinion).  To know more about jeong, see my bilingual lexicon errors page.

8.  Koreans denounce Westerners for their high divorce rates, yet I read an article in the Korea Times (March 10, 2005) which reported that in 2003, 89 Korean couples divorced each day (on average).  199 Korean couples got married each day.  Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but I can do the math.  That's nearly a fifty percent divorce rate (and it's climbing steadily year by year).



"Why I think I'm Korean, When I'm not"

PREFACE: If you are not Korean, or If you've never lived in Korea, you might not "get it".

I have lived in Korea for over eight years. I believe that I have turned into a Korean. Herein below are the reasons why I think so.

1. When I get on the train, if there are no seats available, I immediately go to the corner and put my face to the wall.

2. I cannot go one meal without Kimchi.

3. I never say "Excuse me" any more when I bump somebody while walking. We just bump each other and keep on going.

4. I purposefully cut people off while driving and then put my hand up and give the "I'm sorry" wave.

5. When I see a pretty Korean girl with a foreigner, I think, "What a waist of a perfectly good Korean girl!"

6. I often wonder why children point at me and say, "Wey gook saram! Wey gook saram!".

7. I feel more comfortable speaking Korean than English (with Korean people).

8. Whenever I see a foreigner, I say, "Wey gook saram! Wey good saram!"

9. I speak Konglish all the time! (and it drives me crazy!) Like, "Where's my damned "hand phone?"

10. I cannot smell kimchi any more (I guess my olfactory sense has become desensitized to the smell).

11. The smell of dwen jang actually smells GOOD now!

12. I refuse to write my own name with red ink (or anyone else's name for that matter).

13. My favorite actress is Choi, Jinshil.

14. I know who Choi, Jinshil is.

15. I must have liquor at least every other day. (Soju at least once a week).

16. I often say (in the morning after drinking), "I'm never going to touch another drop of alcohol as long as I live!" Then, a couple days later I'm hitting the bottle again.

17. I've been saying that I want to quit smoking for three years. (I started four years ago).

18. I'm starting to get used to pastel green decor.

19. Whenever I want to chat with a strange expat on the street, I ask, "Do you speak Korean?" (when I mean to ask, "Do you speak English?").

20. I flush the urinal before I urinate.

21. I wear white sock with my suits (hey! it matches the white shirt!).

22. I wear slippers around the office (to show off my white socks).

23. I keep a tooth brush at the office.

24. I read the Korean tabloids every day.

25. I frequently say, "You know what I mean?" to native speakers of English.

26. I always use gestures when speaking English.

27. I speak English about half as quickly as I did eight years ago (even to native speakers).

28. I carry tissue with me wherever I go.

29. I stand A LOT closer to the person in front of me in any line.

30. Whenever a strange Korean comes up to me and speaks English, I think, "What makes him/her think I speak English?" and I usually answer by saying, "Jae-ga yeong-eo mot-hae-yo".

31. I often wonder, "Why are they talking about me in front of me?" (Then, I realize that they are speaking Korean, and I'm not a Korean).

32. My favorite comedian is Kim, Gookjin.

33. I know who Kim, Gookjin is.

34. I know what American-style coffee is.

35. When I hear "D/C", I no longer think of my country's capitol.

36. I know what the following abbreviations mean: A/S, C.F, D/B, D/C, L/T, M/T, O/D, O.H.P, O/A, O/T, S.F, T.P.

37. "Stamina" has a whole new meaning for me.

38. I yell, "Yo-gi-o" in Korean restaurants when I want some service.

39. Food actually tastes better when I eat with somebody.

40. And the last way that I KNOW that I have finally become Korean is:

When a Korean asks me: "Gohyangi Eodissjyo?" I no longer reply:

"Goyangi eopsseoyo!"

[by Leon, 2003]







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