Trip to Oepori

Bored with sitting out the long weekend in the apartment..and not prpeared to run the gauntlet of bumper to bumper traffic to Seokcho or squeeze into a sandy spot in Busan, I decided to take a slow bus to Kanghwan-do

After a confusing start @ Sinchon station (don t trust old internet travel guides) I embarked on my mini adventure.

Far from misssing the traffic jams to the south and east I and my bladder became embroiled in a nose to tail turtle paced pilgrimage to the western Korean island which is 3rd largest in Korea.

Trip to 강환도

Bored wth the prospect of spending the whole long weekend cooped in the apartment @ ltaewon l decided to undertake a mini excursion
Troubled by the prospect of being stuck in long ribbons of ossified traffic. l decid d to leare the herd to enjoy the fun soaked sands of SoKcho on the east  coast and the bronze-baked boys on the beaches of Busan. Not for me the schlep of those commonplace outings!
Instead, I decided to trek to the misty west coast islands..and savour the rich ambience of a lesser travelled part of the country…the corner of Korea where cultures have collided, kingdoms have been foreged and lost and won and witnessed by fishermen and seagulls alike…a corner of the country, not far from Seoul and even less far from the rather tense north Korean border.


So, packing a small back pack with a few changes of socks and underwear, a shirt or two and a a shitload of supporting technological wiring, i made my way to the bus station I had read on a blog.  not too difficult, I mused..until 3 of the buses roared past me, leaving me bewildered in a cloud of grey diesel fumes.  Thankfully the last driver gesticulated wildly at me as I tried politely to knock on the door as he paused briefly for the red light.  From this I inferred that he would not pick me up at that stop…but that I should walk a few hundred metres up the road and round the corner, leaving me suddenly massively impressed with my skill at interpreting wild hand signals from angry bus drivers.  Trudging a full block, I have time to try and orient myself so that I didnt take the bus in the wrong direction.  Just how that driver knew I should be going the other way, I will never know.  But, it turns out he was right, so I suppose I should be grateful.

I found a seat on the next bus, and waited while a contingent of passengers discussed something heatedly with the driver; some got on, some got off, some got on again..and then finally, almost in the blink of an eye, we were off.  I must confess I tracked the route on my handphone, just to check we were navigating in the right direction.  To the accompaniement of tooting horns and wild gesticulations from other drivers ( it is a good thing that buses are so larger that they can manouevre  in and out of lanes at will) we crossed the Han, and headed generally east. At about that time, i wished I had selected a seat on the cooler side of the bus, but thankfully I realised the hour long delay in getting ON a bus, mean the sun would soon be below its zenith and I wouldn’t bake for long.  It was then that another problem hit me.  In the stress of bus stop hunting I had forgotten to  relieve myself adequately…and the warning signals from my bladder began to nudge me gently. get a grip, I told myself, the journey is only  an hour and a half.  at about the same time, we hit the first traffic snarl up.  3pm.  I crossed my legs genteely in the narrow space, and prepared to wait it out. 3.04pm. Try to distract myself from the discomfort by turning into ABC news.  this helps momentarily. 3.05pm.  Still stuck in traffic.  I rearrange my backpack so that it exerts pressure on my lower stomach.  This helps. But in the cramped space i am wedged in by the back which rythmically massages my bladder to the beat of the woman in the seat in front of me as she rocks to the beat of jumping’. 3.11 the bus stops to pick up more passengers.  Others are already standing in the aisle.  I determine that the effort in wriggling through the sea of bodies with my bulging back pack would be too horrendous.  Beside, the stop is a wide open space.  Not a tree in sight…so I wait. Cross my legs the other way.  Moments of relief, in which I wonder if I could/ should invest in adult disposable nappies.

The One Question Every Teacher Needs to Ask Their Students

A Morning Grouch

When I completed my year-long student teaching internship, in a 10th grade biology classroom,  I was lucky enough to be paired with a true master teacher.  She had previously worked as a researcher for NASA, and while her extensive knowledge base, her meticulous nature, and her steadfast attitude made her more than a little successful on the job, she found the work to be too mundane, and too unfulfilling.  So she brought her expertise, her limitless patience, and her diligence with her to the high school setting.

While I learned a great deal from her in terms of the content (she had so much to offer!), I learned even more from her in terms of character.  I remember her sitting me down one day and telling me that while she could tell my understanding of the material was sound, my lesson plans were well thought out, and my delivery of…

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Bring on the new…



2013 has quietly slipped away . And what a year it has been!    Many insights have emerged as I settle into my life in Korea.  The first is the realisation and acceptance that changes happen and that (it took more than 50 years to realise this?) that mostly we are pawns in the game of life; sometimes able to make minor adjustments to our course, but unable to change the major trajectory.


My mission was to come to Korea and recuperate from the brutal cut-throat industry and the narcissistic regime that is ESL teaching in Sydney.  I was most fortunate to land a wonderful job teaching at a University near Incheon, but within months it appeared all was not well there.  Within a year, I found myself reluctantly promoted to senior trainer of the department, and a year later promoted to overall responsibility for the programs at 2 universities.  Luck?  Serendipity? Or because I am so remarkably talented?  Well I think we can cross the latter off the list.    So how does this happen to me all the time?  I recall arriving in Korea a decade ago as a raw recruit to a prestigious (that’s what the brochures said)  ESL school nestled in a back alley of Gangnam and which rather pretentiously claimed to be the Culture and Education centre for New Zealand.  It was less than a year before I was FORCED to become the Head teacher after the previous 2 heads were summarily despatched for refusing to toe management’s ‘bums on seats’ line.  The upshot was that i  floated to the top of a talented and higher qualified group of wannabe  heads.  In a bizarre turn of events, my position was unassailably fortified by a snap election among the candidates – not withstanding the fact that I had thrice declined to be nominated, in line with staff room decisions about the best candidates for the job.  However, it was the election that clinched the back room deals.  And in spite of the sentiment of the other teachers, it was the cleaning staff and waiter’s votes that buoyed my rising star.   What a nightmare that was.  As one colleague mused, it was like being a firefighter –  constantly called out to false alarms – and with very little actual firefighting happening .  Anyway as I had predicted those who had truly hoped the job would be theirs were incensed and cooperation fell to an all time low.  Egos were bruised and while management obviously felt they could communicate better with me, those affected preferred to take their problems directly to management rather than allow me to be the voice of the staff.  Others voted with a rather insulting and arrogant slide into lethargy and by broadening their extra contractual teaching load to impinge on their actual work load to the extent of refusing to teach particular classes because it interfered with their out of school private lessons.  The net result was a cosmetic sense of calm but in reality the decision had  fragmented the channels of communication and shattered the sense of camaraderie.


In fact the whole episode was a treasure trove of cultural insights – one how aspects of Korean management culture works and the o there an insight into the workings and motivations  of ESL teacher – well especially NZ ESL teachers.  The irony of this was that I was a Kiwi by adoption and not through birth, however it truly shattered my perception of the New Zealand work ethic.


And so, a decade later, the pattern is repeated.  And what was meant to be a peaceful, perhaps relaxing sojourn in my adopted country turned into a journey on a road often travelled before.


The goal has now become, not just teach a class at UNI, but have overall responsibility for 2 departments at separate universities…and not only that, but to  start production of an online version of the course.

The goals of said program are somewhat muddy-  as is the deadline.  In a somewhat predictable manner, little research has been done and little thought as to the realities of transforming an on-campus-program into an online format and to make matters worse, of the FOUR original teachers entrusted with the task, one has quit and the other has been terminated…  The two remaining teachers (including myself) are away for 6 weeks, leaving only the somewhat demotivated  (and terminated teacher in the office to carry out allocated tasks.  Not a recipe for success I hear you say?  Hence the constant holiday bombardment from admin assaulting my hard earned holiday; Please ‘inspire and motivate’ the poor  terminated teacher as she sees out her contractual obligations  in solitary confinement in an empty office.  Such are the joys of teaching in Seoul 🙂  Mind you, this process is also not new.  It was just 6 months ago as I prepared to take my contractual break for 3 weeks that I was suddenly informed that I would be teaching a group of 60-odd teachers (at a second campus).  

“Thank you for letting me know  a few days before my holiday.  Shall I cancel my tickets home?”  

“Oh, you were going away?”  Hmmm We’ve already organised for you to teach the classes!”

God bless the process.

And so, 2014 has crept up on us.  And I wonder,  will anything be new?


Reflections on Garth’s suicide

5th October 2007 1.26 am Dear Russell,Response
Just to keep you up to date – I tried to phone David on his cell-phone just now, and have left a message assuring him that we (LifeLine) are available to help him and Garth in any way we can. I said that we too respect Garth’s right to make his own choices, but that we, like you do, just want him to be sure he is making the right decision.  I then tried to phone Garth as well but his phone rings and cuts out.
Your concern for your brother, and your courage, is admirable; but it must be so hard for you to be far away and powerless to help him through his pain. Can you prepare yourself to accept that he may well follow through with his intentions – does it help a little to know that you have truly done all you can to help? Sadly, life in South Africa is tough for the less able, and perhaps Garth feels he cannot face a future where he is dependent and has to struggle to survive financially too.
My concern is also for you. Do you have a good support system in New Zealand? I understand that your family is scattered so I am hoping there is someone nearby who cares about how you are doing at this time. You might like to consider getting in touch with your local counselling service to help you reach a place of peace in all this uncertainty. And of course you are most welcome to keep in contact with us here, and we will support you in any way we can.
Do take care of yourself,
my very best wishes,
5th October 2007 3.39am
Hello Chris
Thank you for trying.  I really didn’t expect that they would take any calls right now, but at least we have tried.  I am sad that my brother has chosen this way without talking about his plans with his family, apart from stating his first resolve a wek before.  I can only hope that the fact that he gave us a week means that he is not certain about it and that while there is time no matter how short, that we can still make an effort to reach him.  I understand his pain and financial uncertainty and the fear and stress that must cause.  I just wish he had been honest before this time so I could have made better choices to help him.  Garth has a huge network of friends who, since the beginning of the week have ben mobilised to try and reach out to him, but he has cut them all off.   wish he had been forced to undergo therapy after the first amputation but it seems he rejected that offer as well.  I know my brother… he is vain and stubborn to the point of being bloody minded.  In fact underneath all of this effort to  reach out to him I am really angry at him.
As for me, I have a small grooup of very understanding friends here and though it is very isolated here I am pretty sure I can deal with  what is to come.   If it does.  Sadly I entered a civil union on the Thursday night that Garth phoned me to tell me his plan.  I had hoped he would celebrate that with me but it is not to be.
I am sad beyond words but I have cried many tears over the phone with Garth and right now I am in a state of calm.  Cleaning up the aftermath will be more dificult as I will have to try to pull together years of family antogonism and guilt.  Garth, as much as I love him has managed to alienate most members of his family at some stage or another and I think apart from my mother I might be the only family member he talks to.  I will be sad for them if he does not make an oportunity for them all to resolve their differences instead of  facing them with this blank wall and a lifetime of guilt and questioning.
Chris I reached out to Life line in South africa quite by chance when I came ascross a reference to them in an internet article.  Probably it was too late when I found that reference but I have tried every avenue I can think of.  I aprreciate your concern and your efforts to help.  Today is the day I dread to hear the phone ring.  Sadly I am not in a financial position to have made the trip out at such short notice which adds to my feeling of guilt and failure.  I canot even attempt to call him before payday tomorrow.. so I thnk now all our hands are tied.  We can only wait and see if he has the determination to carry  this through.  Not a wait I am looking forward to.
Thank you for what you have tried to do and for all the work you  do with others.  In the past I have used counselling from lifeline and other professionals who have helped me through difficult times.  I am sad Garth was too fearful to use this lifeline.
I will probably be back in contact to  tell you of any ourtcome
Best regards
Russell Anderson