Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Monday blog

26th January 2009

I’ve decided to start writing a blog entry every Monday, a sort of diary of what I have learnt and what utterly ridiculous things I have encountered over the last week. I am absolutely, positively prone to chronic procrastination and so this may well be the first and last of these Monday blogs. 

First the bank. A long while ago now I asked the bank, NatWest, to stop sending me paper statements as I could check, if I were ever so bored, my balance and the like on the internet, to which I have slowly over the last few years become addicted. They agreed, via their ‘stop us wasting paper and sending you statements that you don’t read’ button. But yesterday, on returning from a little jaunt to Liverpool, I saw two letters from the bank, both telling me exactly the same thing, that they were changing their fees and charges and I really ought to be aware of it. Would an email have been beyond their technological capability? I am trying to save the world, one paper statement at a time and they go an undo all my good work in one swoop, the bastards.

As mentioned I spent last week in Liverpool, the former capital of culture, with my girlfriend and her family. I went there to interview a few Korean expats who now live in the city as well as to spend some time with my girlfriend and to escape the tedium that is Cwmbran. We interviewed, wandered, looked at a few of the museums and exhibitions that Liverpool seems to have, not in excess but certainly in plenty and generally had a pleasant time. We discovered that amongst the 600,000 or so people in Liverpool there was a thriving little Korean community. We met 50 of them on a night out in a Japanese restaurant and had a very nice time.

Whilst on the subject of Korea I learnt that, according to the guardian it is women who stop traffic in North Korea. They are beautiful, the paper says but their beauty isn’t what stops traffic, not in the Hollywood sense anyway, causing a pile up as drivers rubber neck to get a look at the tall, beautiful, uniformed women but because being tall, beautiful and female are pre requisites for being traffic wardens. Reverse discrimination maybe but maybe drivers in so called free societies would obey traffic wardens and signals more if they had long flowing hair, legs that reach their armpits and fishnets and high heels, ok lose the fish nets but you get the point.

I also read somewhere (ok it was the observer) that more and more people are deciding that they want to be incinerated when they die, presumably because the thought of being eaten by worms and the like isn’t as appealing as it once was. It isn’t the actual burning that is causing the problems it is that relatives want to scatter ashes in inappropriate places, in a romantic and frankly stupid attempt to forever bond their dead loved one with something they loved in life like a football club, or a view from a mountain top. What’s wrong with the mantle, under the mirror so your great aunty Joyce can keep her beady eye on you until you join her in a metal canister to complain about the kids of today having no respect?

I will also be using this blog to try and keep up with the goings on of President Number 44. His weekly address to the nation, his nation that is, will be made available online so his fellow Americans and other interested parties can sit down and be read a fairy story of what he gets up to. I have no doubt that he is a good man and he will do a good job but I am skeptical of the amount of truth and un-spun material that will be fed to the world every week. Prove me wrong 44.

I haven’t watched the first address but then I am a procrastinator at heart.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Age is something that doesn't matter, unless you are a cheese.

A little while ago, before I returned to Wales I saw an elderly Korean woman on TV showing feats of energy, strength and flexibility that most 20 year olds from the UK would be proud of. But to call this woman elderly was doing her a disservice. She was beyond elderly. She looked, with the greatest of respect to this amazing woman, like a corpse. Her eyes were extremely sunken in their sockets, her teeth were long gone and her legs were bowed, probably due to malnutrition as a child. This remarkable woman carried a bag of rice that was probably 20kgs with ease (and in Korea rice comes in multiples of 5 or 10kgs, not 500g bags). She raced and won against women at least 20 or 30 years her junior, out stretched all in her yoga class (think leg behind the head) and easily did sit ups during a for TV fitness test, a feat that a scary percentage of Brits couldn’t do.

My taekwondo teacher is 60 and as you might expect from an 8th Dan grandmaster, is fit, flexible and incredibly strong. As the oldest and biggest student in the class I am often the test dummy when it comes to demonstrations. The other class members watch as I am kicked, punched and thrown (yes thrown, taekwondo is more than just kicks!) in the name of learning. He is like a tree, a solid, unmovable man with a bite far worse than his softly spoken, fatherly bark would indicate.

These two examples of Korean health and fitness are by no means the exception to the rule, they are the rule. There are hundreds or thousands, nay hundreds of thousands of older Koreans all over the country with similar never say die attitudes that every day get up out of bed and leave the house to squat all day at a market stall selling fruit or hiking up mountains.
The unwavering work ethic of the Korean people and their fitness levels, especially in later life are perfectly highlighted by the recyclers. These people, often elderly men and women walk around cities all over the country, from morning to night collecting paper and cardboard to be recycled. I’m sure they get paid for it, a pittance surely but I am almost certain that it is not to do with money. Korean people work hard, very hard. Nowadays, right from when they can walk they are shipped from academy to academy, to special high schools and if they are lucky to a foreign university and into a company to work until they retire. The generations before the 60 hour school week was introduced are the ones who work on the market stalls and collect the recycling. The reason they do it is because if they don’t they would probably die. These jobs keep them going, give them a reason to live and because they know no other lifestyle that to work hard.

The recyclers are the most poignant example of the differences in attitudes to health and fitness between our two countries. They can be seen pulling two wheeled carts, like rickshaws but instead of passengers there is a mountain of cardboard. It is quite astonishing how these people carry such loads. They vary in age of course but I have seen old, very old people, more often women carrying or pulling loads several times their weight and height.
Are these human ants a product of a lifetime of kimchi or is there just something in the water in Korea?

It begs the questions "Is there really something in the water in Korea or are we as a nation just lazy, complacent, greedy slobs?"

A no brainer for me.

Flying home for Christmas

Christmas has came and gone and 2009 has began in earnest. After having returned from Korea for what feels like an age ago ten, I can safely say I am ready to go again. Back to Korea, back to ….anywhere actually.

As you can tell I have mixed feelings about coming home. Of course there is the reason I came back at all, my mother and her failing health and without this reason I surely wouldn’t have returned at all. As it is I am back and aside from the things I despise about this country I am finding some things that are rekindling my faith in the Great British public.
First, the things I hate, have hated, still hate and will always loathe. British rail, Network rail, Midland, Arriva, GWR or whoever charges 47 pounds for a single ticket from Liverpool to Cwmbran are probably top of the list. I love trains, they on the ground, up close and personal, passing through life and not 30,000 feet above it.

I resent paying 47 pounds and so upon returning I booked a 26 pound train for the following day. Another expensive thing I encountered was the cost of a healthy lifestyle. Over 50 pounds a month at a gym I refuse to name just so I can do my bit not to add to the burden the NHS is under from all the fat people that seem to have appeared in the last few years. I have noticed on this return that there seem to be more lardy, even grotesquely over weight people. We truly are overtaking the US as the fattest nation on Earth.

Coming back toward the end of December dropped me right in the middle of the Christmas shopping rush and what a rush it was. For all the news I read in the various rags coupled with panicky journalists flapping on TV, the credit crunch seemed as mythical as, maybe more so than Father Christmas. There were signs of the credit crunch but it is hard to believe it is as serious as the media and politicians make out when people are spending with such reckless abandonment. I really don’t like the disgusting commercialisation of Christmas and with a bit of luck this credit crunch will make people re-evaluate how much they really need all the cheap, expensive, superfluous trappings of what is often called modern life.

There are some things I do like of have been happy to witness since I’ve been back aside from seeing my friends and family which is nice…for a while, I hadn’t imagined there would be much else to balance out the perceived boredom I was absolutely sure would be waiting for me.
I often talk critically of the public here and if you watch the news and read the papers you may well agree but I have to say that a lot of the people I have interacted with have been nice, usually charmless but polite and pleasant enough. The conductor on the train, a man and his young son at Chester train station, a few fellow shoppers in Cwmbran have all made me smile to myself. Another incident in a supermarket reminded me of exactly where I am and I’m sure could only have happened in Wales. A TV, being displayed was playing a DVD of Wales’ ’08 grand slam win and a crowd of men were gathered around it, reliving glorious victories over the five other nations as their wives and girlfriends filled their trolleys and maxed out their credit cards.

Smoke free nights are another positive thing to have changed since my last visit and now clothes and hair do not have to be washed as a matter of course after a few drinks. Somewhat ironically I do have to wash my clothes after spending a little while in my mother’s living room in the company of my oldest sister who smokes like they’re free.

Overall being back home hasn’t been a wholly bad experience. I have enjoyed it up to now but it is from mid January that Cwmbran will start to chip away at me and so whilst I enjoyed the first couple of weeks back, I do feel like anything longer than a holiday here feels like a step backward.

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