20 January 2009

Italian Job ending rewrite

One of my all-time favourite Britflicks is the original production of The Italian Job starring Michael Caine. It's a great film although today's audiences, addicted to fast action and less plot development, might not enjoy it as much as the recent remake.

The Royal Society of Chemistry issued a challenge to provide a suitable ending to the (quite literally) "cliffhanger" ending of the original film.

Here's the shortlist of solutions offered by armchair science fans. The winning solution will be announced this coming Friday.

For those of you who have never seen the original, I highly recommend it. It's more humourous and arguably a much better film than the remake.

18 January 2009

Another year passes

So last Thursday was my birthday. It passed relatively uneventfully, on Saturday my friend Se-yeong and I went out for dinner and a movie. The restaurant she picked actually had decent spaghetti and meatballs, which is what got stuck in my head when she said "pasta restaurant".

I met Se-yeong in a bar during my first few months in Korea, Keith and I were out wandering and I pretty much just ended up drinking with her and her friend for a while. It turned out that we have the same birthday, so I gave her my number, she sent me a silly text message and we have been getting together a couple of times a month to hang out ever since. Usually we go out for dinner and a movie or go shopping.

She's 25-ish and still trying to figure out what she's doing with her life (kind of like I do every few years). Of all the people I've met in Korea, only a handful really stand out for me. She's a good friend and if I hadn't met her I can definitely say that my life would be a little less rich.

Too much and too little

For the past couple of years I've been working here in Busan at the YMCA Language School, it's not really a difficult job for a literate person who's not shy around people. It's probably the easiest job I've had in many, many years of working.

The hours combined with the isolation are a little much. I teach adult conversation classes from 0630 to 0830 each morning, then I'm "off" until the afternoon. I teach children from 1500 to 1800 or so. The only problem with it is that the time in between is really pretty much a waste. My part of the city has few, if any, English-speaking foreigners, so there's little opportunity for social activities, and my evenings are similar(except weekends). The nearest part of the city where I have any friends is about an hour away by subway. So my weeks are pretty empty of company.

I've always been somewhere between social and loner, so it wasn't so hard for the first year, but the shine is gone off the neighbourhood now, so I'm pretty much bored and lonely.

I decided recently that I'd had enough of this and that I'd find a new job in a part of the city with a bit more to offer me in the way of social life. This, it turns out, was a mistake. In Korea your employer owns your visa and unless they give you a formal, written release letter the only way you can change jobs is to leave the country. Now, to me, this is little better than indentured servitude. I'm unaware of the facts of employment for foreign nationals in Canada, but I'm pretty sure that they aren't "owned" (albeit only for one year of "indenture") by their employers.

My buddy Keith, worried about my mental health, urged my former recruiter to find me a different job. And they did, indeed. I was offered a job teaching in a public school near the part of the city I wanted to live in. The job hours were a bit more reasonable (though technically longer) 0900 to 1630 daily, but only about 2 hours of classroom time. The other hours were for "preparation". The other bonus was that the school paid about 20% better and they had an organised curriculum with some lesson plans available. The YMCA doesn't even give me books to use with most of my children's classes.

Anyway, I told my boss I had been offered a new job and that I'd like a letter of release with 2 months notice. She said, she'd have to think about it for a few days. Now that in itself was ridiculous, I knew that this was an attempt to delay an inevitable confrontation (Asians generally prefer non-confrontational methods, which only serves to make most Westerners angry in many situations).

So, finally, at the end of a week, she told me that they "couldn't" (I corrected her and told her that the correct verb to use in her situation is "won't"). They couldn't find a new teacher and she had looked "very hard", in 4 days, over the Christmas holiday. Bullshit, I hate it.

The next thing is something that I could have handled better, perhaps, but I really didn't (and still don't) care. I asked for my degree certificate back (I intended to apply for work in other countries). After a day, I was told that they hadn't gotten it back from Korean Immigration, I asked for the numbers and names of people she called, so that I could have my recruiter speak to them. No names or numbers were supplied, of course. Then a day later I was told that she thought they had given it back to me already (they hadn't). It was at this point that I lost it. I was so angry that I was shaking and turning purple, I scared myself, and then I started shouting at her at the front desk of the school. I could tell she was terrified, she looked like she wanted to cry and crawl under her desk. I really didn't care. My degree certificate is essential for teaching in a lot of places, for some bureaucratic reason it's the only document they'll accept as proof. MUN doesn't EVER issue new ones. She'd just lost an irreplacable document that had taken $30000 and many years for me to earn. I told her I would return to work when she could present me with my degree certificate. Oddly enough, about an hour later it miraculously turned up. The next day she took me into a classroom and chewed me out for yelling at her and undermining her "authority". I told her that as far as I was concerned her authority was meaningless if she could be so irreponsible. She also tried to get me to apologise, which prompted me to call her an "idiot". She then said that she really didn't want me working there anymore because I was too disrespectful, so I told her that if she didn't want me there she was welcome to fire me, she certainly had that privelege. Unfortunately she declined this opportunity.

So, now I'm just counting my days. Next time I'm going to another country. One without crazy indenture laws. A friend has a line on an IT job in Asia and apparently I'm on the short list, but I'm not holding my breath. Or, more correctly, I'm trying not to hope too much for it. It'd be pretty sweet though...


Last weekend I visited my friends Chris and Tanya here in Busan (they're from St. John's, but they've been here for about 8 years now)

They showed me yogurt that they made in their electric rice cooker. It was honest to God, real fresh yogurt. I tried it out this weekend and it was stupidly easy to make.

1) fill rice cooker pot with water and set it to "Warm" (NOT "Cook")
2) pour a small (100ml) bottle of active culture yogurt drink into a 1 litre plastic container and then top up with milk. Seal the container and drop it into the water in the cooker.
3) close the cooker and wait 12 hours.
4) turn off the cooker, let cool, drain, refrigerate and eat.

I haven't eaten it yet, it's still too warm. So this may be my last blog entry. ;)

Blogging blackout

Okay, so I've been asked many times to keep my blog current and many people have just stopped reading it. I must confess that I've been in a relatively negative frame of mind this past while, for a variety of reasons that I'll divulge in later posts, and I didn't really want to turn this into a wall of whining.

So, for now I'll continue writing and hopefully post a little more often.

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