Musing: Korean Dining Rules

I love eating out. I adore walking into a restaurant where I have never been before, scouting out the best seat and analysing the menu for the most appetising items. It’s the thrill of the unknown. Even in Korea, where I am potentially the only foreign face to grace their establishment that week (or perhaps even longer), I enjoy trawling for the best restaurants.

However, there is a certain off-putting aspect to Korean dining, and that is the rules of eating. I enjoy experimenting with my food in order to combine the best tastes and textures, but it often feels as though there is a set of unyielding regulations for eating Korean food, (ironically, this country also boasts a bizarre array of snack flavours and pizza toppings). There have been multiple occasions where the restaurant staff have instructed me on the correct order to put the food into my mouth. Admittedly, there have been times when I’m faced with something obscure, and I am grateful for their interruption. However, when it comes to basic Korean food that I regularly consume – and I don’t always comply with the rules – the altercation can be a little frustrating. After it feels as though the waiters are closely watching me to ensure that I eat correctly, and I feel concerned that my refusal to comply is rude. 

My Korean friends have also informed me on how to correctly consume food when we go out for dinner. Recently, a friend told me that the chilli spice on the table was for one of our dishes, but not another. When I questioned her on this idea she told me that the spice only complimented one of the meals. I tried it with both and I beg to differ, which leads me to ask who creates these regulations, and why are they continuing to be enforced?  

Teaching The Ant and the Grasshopper

I recently taught Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper to a class of elementary students. It brought stories from my youth rushing back to me, and as tends to be the case when you revisit these tales as an adult, I realised that I didn’t fully appreciate the moral back then. There’s something particularly unsettling about returning to books and movies from your youth and interpreting them with a mature mind. Therefore, I decided that it would be interesting to study a fable with my adult students.

Every time I teach this group, I walk away feeling that I’ve learnt so much from them, (sometimes I worry that they teach me more than I teach them). They are intuitive, interested in learning and generally well-rounded, and they didn’t fail to impress me during this class. As I expected, there is a Korean version of this fable, and the students were familiar with the moral of the story, but this didn’t detract from their enthusiasm.

There was a wide range of ideas about the story – which obviously created an interesting discussion. One student recalled a modern version of the fable where the grasshopper is a famous singer whilst the ant is a labourer who becomes sick from working too hard. It was a darkly comical outlook on modern society, and when I researched modern takes of the fable, I found that there is a multitude. If I teach this lesson again I will probably encourage a discussion of how the tale would unfold in modern life.

Below is a copy of the worksheet that I used. This class are intermediate, but the worksheet could easily be adapted to other levels.

The Ant and the Grasshopper Fable
An Aesop’s Fable

In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.”
But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.
When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer.
Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

Moral of Aesop’s Fable: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

Chirping Carrying
Content Need
Bearing Tweeting
Toil Prepare
Moiling Delivering
Lay up Fulfilled
Distributing Hard work
Necessity Labour


Is there a fable like this in your country?

Do you enjoy reading stories with morals?

Do you relate to the ant or the grasshopper?

Which would you rather do, work hard or play hard? Is there a time for each?

Why didn’t the grasshopper work hard?

What do you think this story is trying to teach?

Discuss the phrase: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Discuss the phrase: “Prepare an umbrella before it rains.”
Do you think the ants should help the grasshopper?

How do you think the ant felt watching grasshopper play while she was working so hard? Have you ever been in a situation like this?

Do you think the grasshopper will help gather food next year?

Do you think any of the ants will choose to sing and dance rather than work to prepare for the winter?





Public Address System

It’s deepest, darkest winter. The air is so dry that it sticks in my throat and has transformed my skin into a crumbling wreck. If I touch something metallic, I’m likely to receive an electric shock. The landscape resembles something post-apocalyptic, with the dry, desolate mountains and the skeletal trees. The wind is pounding against the balcony windows of my 13th floor apartment. I roll over in bed and glance at my phone, it’s 6 a.m.; I still have a couple of hours before I need to drag myself out from beneath the covers. I wrap myself up in a cocoon as I settle back down.

Suddenly, the PA system, that’s located above the bathroom door, cheerily pings to life. The security guard surly voice grumbles something in Korean, a language that – despite the time I’ve spent living here – I do not speak. I put my head under the covers in a half-arsed attempt to block out his incomprehensible stream, but it’s impossible. He continues for an indefinitely long period, and then the cheery ping signals that he’s finished.

I carry the curse of being a light sleeper, so now sleep completely evades me. I fume as I thrash around in bed before deciding to face the day. How can this man, who signs for my packages when I’m out, storm into my apartment at 6 a.m. and rouse me from my bed? I really didn’t sign up to live in an Orwellian nightmare.

Donald Trump and North Korea

When Donald Trump was elected as the president of the United States five months ago, I felt concerned for the future.  Many of my American friends told me how dissappointed they were with the results, and they were confused about what their own futures would hold. Despite the surmountable fear that surrounded Trump, I felt reassured that his actions wouldn’t strongly effect me. 

However, it now appears that I had no reason to feel so smug. Trump literally stormed into power, and he has used his position rather aggressively. Initially, I believed that he was all bark and no bite, but his actions against Syria and Afghanistan have proved me wrong. Vice President Pence said that the actions in Syria proved “the strength and resolve of our new president”, but what I see is a man with an unchecked capacity for destruction. This concern was reiterated by an extremely insightful podcast by Radiolab called Nukes where they explained the extent of the presidents power over nuclear warfare. Unfortunately, it appears that the president has complete and almost instantaneous authority when it comes to deploying nuclear bombs.

Now, Trump’s turned his attention to North Korea, (a country that also happens to be a close neighbour of mine). Trump has said that North Korea has “gotta behave” when it comes to their plans for intercontinental ballistic missiles. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe that North Korea is likely to quell their nuclear program because of Trump’s somewhat patronising words. 

Over the past few weeks, the news has been increasingly filled with the Trump/North Korea dispute. Alongside that, friends and family have voiced their own concern for my safety as I live in such close proximity to Pyongyang. To be completely honest, I’m currently not overly concerned about the prospect of nuclear warfare. Over the past couple of years I’ve observed the numerous terrorist attacks that have spread over Europe. As far as I can tell, nobody expected these events, and therefore the people who were effected by them weren’t living in fear. If I allow the disputes of the people in power to concern me, they will only cause me unnecessary stress. Therefore, I’m trying to think positively, and hope that this situation doesn’t blow up on my doorstep. 

Are you a boy?!

A year ago I cut off my waist length hair and donated it to an amazing charity called Little Princess Trust that makes wigs for children. I was in awe of the generosity of my friends and family who helped me to raise over £900 for the charity. I’m not going to lie and say that my actions stemmed from an innate desire to act charitably; in fact it was the Korean summer that instigated my plan.

I grew up in England, where the summer can be completely unpredictable; on an average day you might interchangeably need a jacket, jumper, umbrella and a cup of tea to survive the perils of the weather. However, Korean summers are cemented in a suffocating cocoon of heat and humidity that was foreign to me. It’s not uncommon for the weather in Ulsan to reach more than 30c, and this combined with close to 100% humidity is unbearable. I felt like I was drowning in sweat under my thick mop of curly hair, and I spent the majority of the summer with my hair scraped back off my face.

During this period I worried about how I would handle 6 months travelling around South East Asia – a region renowned for its hot, humid weather. I contemplated getting my hair braided, but the fact is that this takes a bit of work to maintain, and if I have to wash my hair more than once a week it’s too much effort for me. For years I had been growing out my hair, trying to get it as long as possible and keep it looking healthy, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I began contemplating cutting my hair short. However, after a lot of research I decided that this was by far the best option. Ultimately, this was my chance to give something back, and I would still reap the reward of a cool head whilst travelling. 

All of my life I have preferred the dentist to the hairdressers. Curly hair has this annoying ability of springing up an extra 6 inches when you get a one inch trim, and I’ve been left frustrated by an uncountable amount of haircuts. Evidently, I was terrified when I walked into the Korean hairdressers and requested that they remove the majority of my hair. 

In the end, I was happy with the results. Generally, I received a positive response from my friends and family. There were one or two students who didn’t like my new style, and on more than one occasion I have been asked whether I am a boy, but this doesn’t really bother me. One year later, I’m starting to grow out my hair again, and in a few years I plan to donate it once more. 



CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)

When I first moved to Korea in 2014, I got an online TEFL qualification in order to beef up my CV and hopefully secure a decent job. The course was pretty mediocre; it seemed to teach a lot of basic grammar (concepts that you could do a quick internet search in order to refresh your memory), but it failed to increase my confidence when it came to teaching. As a first time teacher, I wanted to walk into the classroom with a bit of certainty about my teaching ability, but it took a while for to build my self-confidence. Since then, I’ve realised that most teachers over here don’t have a TEFL qualification, and I’ve seriously wondered whether it was a waste of time and money.

During my first stint as a teacher, a couple of friends spoke positively about their experience achieving the CELTA qualification. When I researched CELTA, I was deterred by the hefty price tag (around £1,300), after my less than positive experience with TEFL (a program that is considerably cheaper than CELTA), I just didn’t want to feel let down. However, after a considerable amount of time debating the pros and cons, I decided to sign up to complete the course during my time back home. 

There are centres for the CELTA worldwide, and you can find the most suitable place for you on their website, and each location has different options. I chose the full-time course which takes four weeks. The program ran Monday to Friday 9-5, with a couple of half days over the duration. There were 11 students split into two groups; each group spent two weeks teaching a lower-intermediate class and two weeks teaching upper-intermediate. For each lesson that we taught we received in-depth feedback from our peers and tutors, who would observe the class. We were also given guidance on our lesson plans and time management in order to adapt the material to the students. Each lesson that we taught was graded as a ‘below standard’, ‘to standard’ or ‘above standard’.

As well as teaching our own lessons, we were provided with the opportunity to observe qualified teachers in order to accumulate an array of teaching methods. Our tutors did seminars on complex grammar, various tasks and styles of teaching for the classroom; they encouraged us to incorporate these into our own lessons. The general feeling was that you don’t need to re-invent the wheel as there is a multitude of resources out there created by qualified teachers.

There are four assignments over the duration of the program that you have two chances to pass (and the tutors will offer you guidance if you are struggling). Each assignment was relatively different so that most trainees found at least one easier than the others. These assignments – along with your lesson grades – go towards your final classification.

I thoroughly enjoyed completing the CELTA. It was obviously very tiring, and there was a lot of work to be done outside of the classroom, but I believed that it broadened my capacity as a teacher and it boosted my confidence. Over the past month, I’ve been implementing some of the concepts into my Korean classroom, and I’ve been really happy with the results.

11 Months Travelling/11 Months Unemployed

Many people dream of the day when they can quit their job and head off travelling for a few months or longer. I was lucky enough to spend 11 months doing just that. In the years prior to my trip I saved huge portions of my wage and planned the locations that I was itching to visit. The last day of work was an emotional rollercoaster as I said goodbye to my students and colleagues at the small private academy in Korea where I’d spent the past 20 months teaching English. Sitting on the late night flight to the Philippines, I shed a tear as the wheels lifted off the Korean soil. Korea had been my home for 20 glorious months, and at the point of leaving I was uncertain whether I’d ever visit again. 

For just over 6 months I explored the beauty of South East Asia; revelling in their culture and sampling exotic food. For the final 5 months of my period of unemployment I travelled around the UK and the USA. During this period of luxury I tried to relish every spectacular encounter, but without much structure in my life I felt that the days were moulding into one. I drifted from one delicious meal to the next, collecting amazing experiences as I went. 

I’m not saying that there was anything negative about the time that I spent travelling, but perhaps I just spent too long in this state of euphoria. For a long time, I’ve believed that you can’t truely appriciate pleasure without pain, and this trip epitomised my philosophy. Without the trials and tribulations of working life, I began to be desensitised by what I was experiencing. 

Therefore, it was with great enthusiasm that I accepted a job teaching in South Korea (again). The time that I spent travelling taught me a multitude of things, but there’s one fact that I’ll cherish as I step back into the working world: a weeks work makes the weekend so much sweeter.