Korea, Bucheon

7th April 2003 – 9th April 2004

How do I sum up this year, my first year of working the world?  I completed a one year contract as a glorified babysitter, or should I say an English teacher

 I was literally fresh off the boat, in the capital of South Korea, Seoul, by myself. The international media were portraying the country as being on the brink of war with neighbours North Korea and SARS was running rampant. I was 21 years old, recently graduated university, first time out of Australasia. Every aspect of normal day life was different, the toilets, the lanugage, the people, the apartment buildings, the food, the street signs, the grass –or lack of-, the spitting, the singing rooms, the rubbish, the barbie doll dogs, the traffic, the noise, the barber poles, the stares, the smells! And I loved every minute of it all.

 Looking down on the concete jungle of Seoul Why don’t you just buy a doll if you want to play dress-ups? Korean Barbie Doll Dog.

 I had organised a 1 year english teaching contract back in New Zealand before I arrived.  I was an “English Teacher”, or more accurately you could say I was a confused white guy who spoke english holding a text book in a classroom full of even more confused kids. But as you do in these situations, you either sink or swim. So I decided to go for a little swim.

I got the handle of teaching and learnt a hell of a lot about the english language that came out of my mouth. I also realised how lucky I was to come from an english speaking country and not have to learn it. For example, as a teacher my students wanted to know the difference between, would, should and could! Try and explain that to a 10 year old kid that struggles to even introduce himself in English. Once I had a few months underneath my belt, I also got into the seedy underground illegal scene of private tutoring to add to the beer fund. (its not seedy, I just wrote that to make it sound cooler).

 Bucheon? The part of Bucheon I lived was very new, a couple of years ago it had been rice patty fields, many shops were still just empty concrete spaces, and the ongoing noise of construction constantly buzzing in the early morning. From my 12th storey apartment window I could count over 20 cranes!  By teacher standards, my apartment was pimping, and I was the first person to enter the virgin apartment, it was great.

Standing in front of the 10 lane road infront of my apartment building. Me and Mia with the Kindergarten Kids.

As well as mastering (semi mastered, I still can’t explain the difference between would, should and could) the English language, I made a conscious effort to learn Korean.  I was able to communicate well for a foreinger, able to read, order a meal,  tell a taxi driver where to go and most importantly communicate with my girlfriend (the language of love can only take you so far ;))

Despite my skinny appearance being blamed on not being able to operate chopsticks, I mastered them in my first week, -learn or starve-.  Speaking of mastering sticks. The year I was in Korea I trained 5 nights a week, turning the sticks holding up my body into weapons of mass destruction. I gained my black belt in Taekwondo. 

Over the year I made great friends, Wendy and Caleb my fellow foreingers in crime. Wendy taught at my school for a few months and her now husband Caleb dabbled in the adult movie industry (just soap operas), which made for a great laugh. Then there were my korean friends from my soccer team and my taekwondo masters. These were great guys that welcomed with open arms to introduce me to the complex Korean drinking culture, and the Korean food,. To name a few meals, Dog, Chicken feet (bloody spicy), live octopus tentacles (still wriggling) and who can forget the Korean staple diet of kimchi which is spicy fermented cabbage.

At my black belt test with my masters Eating Octopus with Taekwondo Masters

 Then there was the invasion of my University soccer team and friends. Korea thought SARS was a problem. With these guys in there bars and classrooms, the future of Korea was not bright.  What I got up to with them is probably left for my book, or taken to my grave.  Great times had, great memories.

My year in Korea I travelled the country extensively, which is not hard considering you can drive from end to the other in 5-6hours.  The most memorable trip was the roadie that saw a van rented and packed with 10 kiwis and a token scotsman, which started  with a crash (literally) and continues with a bang. I also managed to get over to Vietnam and Japan a couple of times.

A quiet public holiday at the beach! Staying in a capsule hotel in Tokyo (like a morgue, corridor walled with these capsules).

When my contract came up for renewal after a year I was keen to stay on as I was having such a great time (out of school).  My boss flew me to Japan to renew my Korean teaching visa, but he hadn’t given me the correct paperwork, so it was denied. As I had no visa for Korea, the Japanese airline would not let me on the return flight to Korea, so I then had to buy a another ticket to show I was departing korea and enter on a tourist visa -out of my own pocket-. You can imagine my bosses joy when his only English teacher arrived back with no teaching visa. 

My boss still wanted me to sign another 1 year contract and continue to work on a tourist visa. I had no problem working on a toursit visa, but there was one other little problem.  I was still owed 2 months outstanding pay totallying US$4000. So I would not commit until I got my $4000. After much heated debate where the poor translator  was caught in the middle, I signed another one year contract to get my money I was owed. He only gave me $1000, so I told him to stick his job -I’m sure it was translated to him in kinder words-, and he told me to get out of his apartment in 2 days! –its been really great working with you and appreciate all the hard you did- The funny part is, that when I took my case to the Labour board, they said I was entitled to my outstanding $3000 under my contract, but because my school had less than 6 employees my contract didn’t matter! Go figure. And that was the end of the Bucheon Chapter.

Next Chapter

5 Responses to “Korea, Bucheon”

  1. mia at 5:55 am #

    Great website and photos!
    you’ve done well, happa!

    I had a great time when we worked together even though i cound’t really help you when you were in trouble.

    I truly hope that you can make it to my wedding in korea. because without you, i wouldn’t even have met my future husband(oh, my god! am i really getting married? to him? ) ben. without you, my wedding wouldn’t be perfect!

    I miss you a lot, hap.

    all the best,

    lots of love,
    little mia 😉

  2. Hap at 5:39 pm #


    Our little Korean Angel, Mia without me you may not of met Ben, but without you I’m pretty sure, Me, Benno and the rest of that korean mob would be in a Korean Jail somewhere.

    I’m planning my future plans around being in Korea for your special day. As I told beno the only reason i won’t be there is because I get taken hostage by a sex deprived polar bear on an Antactica ice berg.

    Beno tells me he proposed in the elevator of my old apatment, assssaaaaa!

    Nuthin but love Happa

  3. pauline at 10:14 pm #

    starting at the top and working my way down…your blog…i’m just gonna leave that comment alone…interesting stuff…tell me you didn’t eat dog or live octopus tentacles!!

    • Hap at 6:17 pm #

      G’day Pauline, Yep, when in Rome, I ate dog a few times whilst here. It’s a bit like meat flavoured chewing gum, apparently is 100% cholestrol free, good for the ol hips.
      Mandy and I in Thailand now, bloody hot. Hope all good back in the US.


  1. Why am I doing an expedition? « Hap Working The World -

    […] Korea, Bucheon […]

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