Archive for the ‘life of surprisesaplenty’ Category

A day in the Life

September 24, 2016

…of a guy trying to make a living as a freelance English teacher.

I don’t think this is a rant but a warning to others who might look for this kind of work in South Korea. To some extent I am, not thinking ‘aloud’ but thinking ‘atext’; working things out on paper. Welcome to the way my mind works. Caveat lector!

Yesterday I left the apartment at 8:30 with the expectation of returning home around 7:00 and working four hours during those ten-and-a-half.  Things didn’t work out that way and I am not sure what the result was.

First, I went to a factory that had been taken over by a multi-national which wanted all or most of the employees to speak English. I was there to administer an oral level test of ten employees.  I was never made aware of all the end results of my judgement. I know  in at least some cases, the students were tested to see what sort of English class would be a good fit. All the people I interviewed spoke about job stress and drinking too much alcohol. It is possible that if an employee’s level did not improve, they might be let go. I’m not saying that will happen but, some of the employees seemed tense. The range of ability was from very low to nearly native speaker level.

After the interviews were done, I spoke with the organizer. She works at a corporate English recruiting firm – does that company description sound right? She had placed an ad on Craig’s List for corporate private teaching and similar work and I had applied. Anyway, the original position was to teach an executive at this company. I was accepted. Then the executive decided he would rather have a Korean English teacher. Then they offered me this level testing gig. Then the executive decided he wanted a foreigner and I might have that job. The level testing gig was moved to a new day. …

The people at the recruiting firm were not exactly jerking my chain. As middle-men, they had to adjust to a variety of schedules and whims.

Another similar company has also hired me to teach a few classes in October that will conflict with teaching the executive. I may have to cancel or reschedule two days. It didn’t seem a big deal to me because of all the rescheduling I had been through at the hands of the recruiters.

We discussed this and the recruiter is delivering messages to and fro to see what to do when I miss those days.

So we separate and I have three hours until my next gig, which is maybe forty minutes away. I buy a drink at a Paris Baguette and type for a while.

At the next job I am replacing a teacher who had to return home for a funeral. I actually don’t know how much I will be paid. I had the time free and feel this is the compassionate thing to do. I do expect to be paid.

And when I get there, I learn they have nothing for me to do and I should go home.  I had already worked there Monday and Wednesday and had a schedule for Friday. No, they tell me, I am not needed because the students had come in the day before. I did not raise my voice but noted that I had organized my day around this work and had traveled a hour to get there and would travel an hour more to get home.

I am not good with money.

In this case, as noted, I wasn’t expecting to receive a lot of money for the work, but I do need to convince myself to fight for the hours to be paid for. It hardly mattered what the rate was, I deserved it for the 2.5 hours I had expected to work there.

I think I will be paid for a satisfactory amount of hours there.

At home two hours early, I checked my email and saw an email from the second recruiting company. This is the company with work in October. They have offered me a two day Presentation Skills in English class and a three day Presentation Skills in English class. They interviewed me for the two day class and offered the the three day one as well.  Both take place a significant distance south, in the same town but for different groups in different locations. The two day event will pay X won and the email I received asked me if I would do the three day class for X won. The pay for two days is good if not worth dancing over. The pay for three days – the same pay or 1/3 less per hour – is still good. Better than sitting at home, not being paid.

I am not good with money. Imagine a Victorian trying to explain inter-racial sex to another person’s children and you have an idea of how uncomfortable I am in walking the line between appearing to be greedy and having a desire for fair pay.

After I finish this post, I will craft an email explaining my point. My main concern here is that the same company is hiring me to teach similar material -but of differing durations – at the same cost. If a sixteen hour course is worth X, then a twenty-four hour course should be worth 3/2X.  A complicating point is that the money offered per hour would not be enough for one hour or even two. It would be worthwhile for four or more because I only travel once and the activity causes only one conflict rather than a continuing stream of them.

Freelancing is challenging!

September 8, 2016


Image from.

In early July, I moved to Incheon, where my wife had been transferred, from Busan, where I had worked and my son went to school.  We were a happy family again…

A week later, I went to Gangwon Province to work at an ESL camp, returning to Incheon in mid August. Two weeks later, the whole family – all the in-laws – went to Jeju Island to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.

In between all that and continuing to this moment, I have been looking for work.  Summer isn’t the peak hiring season for universities although I applied to all within, first 50 km, then 80 km and then as classes began, up to 120 km away.  Nothing.

I had been looking at piece work but didn’t want to commit in case I found a long term employer.  And so, now I diving into piece-work.

So far, I can’t complain about being too busy. I spend an hour or two a day on four websites: Koreabridge, Dave’s ESL Cafe, Craig’s List and Facebook specialty pages with job listings (you need to be invited to these so no link here). Of the group, Craig’s List has the best short term listings. Or, it has the most, which might not be the same thing.

Now is a good time to note that I have an F-6 visa, different from most native speaker English teachers, and working at a variety of places is permitted. As a university instructor, my contracts included a clause that I would not work off campus without the permission of the university. In other words, working off campus sometimes meant breaking the contract rather than breaking the law.

And so currently on my plate are:

subbing for a few days for a person going home for a funeral,

an interview for teaching one evening a week at a high school,

and working in a nearby suburb with a young professional and being paid by his corporation.

The thing is, the funeral was put off a week (I don’t know how that works), the professional wants to meet me today, next Tuesday but can’t, and not can because I don’t have subbing to do and the meeting I was going to have with the high school at 5:00 but couldn’t because of the subbing was moved to 6:30 and now back to 6:00.

I look at ten positions and mailed three to five applications a day and when I get responses, they don’t always include information on the position.  Today, I had to ask an employer (No, let’s say client. It sounds better) to refresh my memory on the details.

I now keep Google Calendar open all the time in a browser and will now record the details of every position I apply to in a dated file, “applications Sept 8” to help me keep track.

My brother-in-law is a dentist and an incredible guy.  The thing about dentists is, they are masters of production line throughput in a way that I don’t see with other medical doctors.  While the freezing is taking effect in a patient’s mouth, or an X-ray is developing (that might be an outdated phrase now, do digital x-rays develop?), he is doing the actual fingers-in-mouth work or interviewing a patient or parent…. At his home, he has horses and the farrier (I mean the guy who trims the hooves and works with horseshoes. I think that’s the right term) was in to work while I visited. The two discussed the similarities in their work, with my brother-in-law saying, “First, you find work, then you get a reputation, then you find work sites closer together and choose clients deliberately rather than desperately”.

That describes my plans, such as they are.  The three work sites are not close to home but will get me noticed.  The corporate work is likely to grow and in my interview, I described this first contract as a probationary one for both of us. We would both see how the other worked and hopefully grow from there.  They are interested and eager to find me work in my home neighbourhood if they can.

I gotta keep organized and on top of the schedules and check the postings every day.  It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.

Surprise! Now I live in Incheon

July 21, 2016

An internet friend who has blogged for a few years in Korea has moved back home and hung up his keyboard. He writes:

… I’ve felt less compulsion to blog, perhaps not just due to a lack of time, but also because I’ve become extremely familiar with this country that I now feel is truly my second home.

I’ve felt the same way.  In Gangwondo, I was one of only a few English language bloggers and felt I filled a needed niche.  Plus, the place was weird.   Now I am comfortable in Korea and I moved to a giant city with many bloggers.  I don’t know but I guess I posted five or ten things since I moved to Busan six years ago.

Some of those posts were good.  I am proud of my discussion of libel in Korea.  But I just didn’t feel the urge to blog here.

I deliberately unlocked my blog from a location.  My previous blog was titled ‘Gangwon Notes’ and once I left it, I felt strange in adding to it. Surprisesaplenty is supposed to be open.  Maybe it is too open.  For reasons hard to explain my creativitiproject blog has been going well. Open in location but focused on subject matter seems to be the way to go.

My wife was recently transferred to Incheon and I have moved there to join her. My life is currently very befitting the title of this blog as my life is in a state of flux. What will I do next? Teach?  Take the plunge and write full time?  Organize my blogs so they fit together?

I’m not giving up on this blog but I don’t know where my adventures will lead.

On Policing – a rambling exploration of violence

June 10, 2016

What is it like to be a police officer?  On the one hand, there is this letter by a police officer’s wife (heavily snipped):

Dear Officer,

I want you to know that I see you.  I see you choose the booth in the restaurant that allows you to have your back against the wall.  I see you walking to your next traffic stop while you hope that it isn’t your last. … I see your cause and I want you to know that I appreciate it.

I need you.  We need you.  America needs you.  I know that the world isn’t making it any easier for you to wake up with the same passion you had when you first started.  I know the world is making it extremely difficult for you to feel like anyone is on your side.  I know the world is making you feel like the only allies you have can only be found in each other.  I know that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to put your life on the line for a world that has seemingly turned their backs on you.

I wish I knew how to fix it.  The only thing I know how to do is support you.  I’m aware that there isn’t a magic solution that will make the world see you for who you are; the amazing men and women in blue.  I just want you to know that I see you. I need you to know that you are appreciated by a vast majority who is in your corner.  I need you to know that you aren’t alone.  I need you to feel the presence of those who love and support you.  We are rallied behind you and ready to defend your character at any given moment.  You are honorable.  You are courageous.  You are worthy of a nation’s support.

And on the other side, police officer tased teen into coma.

police violence


The letter is from the wife of a police officer.  I am the son, grandson and husband of police officers.  If my eyes were better, I might be one myself -or at least have applied. The two extremes posted above, plus the killing of Sammy Yatim by police officer James Forcillo in Toronto have made me unsure of where I stand.

Background on Yatim.  The mentally man stepped onboard a bus and threatened the other passengers with a knife.  They were evacuated, police arrived and Yatim was shot by Forcillo:

On August 19, 2013, James Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder. On July 30, 2014, he was also charged with attempted murder. On January 25, 2016, Forcillo was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, but guilty of attempted murder.

At issue in this case was how much of a threat Yatim was.  The passengers had been removed, but the man had a knife.  How far apart were Yatim and Forcillo? Did Forcillo need to approach Yatim at that time?  It appears he, and other officers, could have waited outside the bus.

I’ll return to this in a moment, but I wrote “unsure of where I stand”.  That is still unclear, even in what line or side I imagine exist to stand on or in.

There is one more bit of history to include. My own father was investigated for a shooting.  This was long ago and I do not know the details. Maybe it is better I don’t.  Maybe the question here is, ‘Am I brave enough to learn family history?’

What I think I recall is my father and other officers had a man in a car surrounded. I think he was an escaped convict or possibly a suspect in a violent crime.  It was suspected that he was armed.  In the course of events (how neutrally I phrase this), the man’s hand dipped out of sight and someone (this is not an evasion – I don’t think anyone knows who it was) fired.  At this point, every officer emptied his pistol.

One important point I can add for the education of any  readers. To fire less than every bullet in a revolver or automatic gun requires more control than firing two or three.  If a person thinks his/her life is at risk, there is no benefit to a halfway measure.  The dead don’t get any more dead so firing more shots than needed has no downside.  In any case of a killing by firearm, the fact of the killing is important and should be legally actionable, but the bullet count is not important.

This is a key difference between the Ontario Provincial Police (and probably police in all of North America) and at least one police group in South Korea.  Here in South Korea, officers are trained (how well, I cannot say) to wound, to aim for a leg or arm.

Back to my father.  The killing was ruled justified and aside from nightmares, my father and the other officers received no punishment.

Training now is far different for police officers.  in the 1960’s, my father was hired either right out of high school or soon afterwards.  Police today are often university degree holders and older hires, late twenties or so, are preferred.

Fifty years ago, a few members from every detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police were sent to Wasaga Beach for a long weekend holiday in May -known as the May two four weekend.  They weren’t there to relax but to rein in the motorcycle gangs that converged on the otherwise quiet village.  I am too young to recall, but my father would return home bleeding at night on occasion.  Who were these bikers to disrespect the law and who were these officers who did not have the confidence to stamp the problem out? For that matter, who were the general public that didn’t give enough support to the police to handle the matter safely for all concerned, especially the police that were wounded in such battle?

I imagine if a similar problem presented itself today, enough force would be found to charge all gang members at the location and people would accept the rationale for the arrests.

Today, police in Canada are armoured more by their badge than their vest or weapons. If a police officer is threatened, the public normally sides with the officer.

They didn’t side with Forcillo and his position was no defence at sentencing.

The mandatory minimum prison sentence for attempted murder with a restricted firearm was never intended to apply to police whose job is to protect the public, a lawyer for a Toronto officer found guilty in the shooting death of a troubled teen argued Thursday.

But the judge who will decide Const. James Forcillo’s sentence for attempted murder said he saw no reason why police officers should be exempt from the minimum of five years behind bars.

“It’s not a licence to kill,” Justice Edward Then said of police-issued guns. “Police officers are entrusted with the use of a gun for a particular purpose. In this case the jury has found that it wasn’t to serve and protect but it was with the purpose of attempting to kill.”

I feel Forcillo’s profession, and it is a profession now, unlike in my father’s day – does earn him special consideration when on trial for actions done while on duty.  I am definitely not talking specifically about Forcillo, as I know only some of the details available to the public. Here is my reasoning.  In the past, and probably still, killing a police officer who had identified himself as such, was a greater crime than killing someone who wasn’t a police officer.  I feel this is fair because police are required to approach danger while others are welcome, even encouraged, to move away from danger.  Making the killing of a police officer a more serious crime was a way to protect people who worked to protect us.  In the same way, giving the police some greater leeway when they use force seems fair.  They aren’t supposed to retreat from danger the way I, for example, am.

I don’t feel the police should get a free ride, should be able to murder with no consequences.  But I do feel reduced consequences are reasonable.

Hmmm. I do feel I cleared up at least one point in my own mind. “But the judge who will decide Const. James Forcillo’s sentence for attempted murder said he saw no reason why police officers should be exempt from the minimum of five years behind bars.” He definitely should not be exempt. But the possibility of a lower sentence should be open.  If the standard sentence is five to ten years, I feel Forcillo should be looking at three to ten years.  He should not be exempt from a long sentence, but his position as a person who could not run away should mean something.

Now, in reading Boingboing, one might come to the conclusion that police already are free of many legal restrictions and punishments we civilians are bound by. That link is to posts tagged with ‘police’ and a few are not relevant but most are.  I can only hope they are American poli… Not, I don’t want any police officer or department to be so poorly overseen. For the police to be protected, the public has to have faith in them.  I have faith but not quite as much as the wife that wrote the letter excerpted above.

I will finish with this thought.    My father was a patient man with me but also an angry man in general.  Kind-hearted, generous and friendly, but so often angry.  I know what it is like to be a police officer’s son and we heard from the wife of a police officer.  I wonder if police themselves are able to talk about such things.  How do they stay professional – or what makes their professionalism break down?

Two hopefully gone medical conditions

July 19, 2015

I’m going to say ten years ago, I had a weird fuzziness in part of my eye. It was like a hair on my lens making everything I looked at out-of-focus. I could see to navigate but often held my head or eye at an angle to try to read through a clear portion of my field of view. Closing the eye didn’t help and it didn’t feel like something was physically touching my eye. After half an hour it would go away for days or weeks or months or several years now. I can’t remember the last time I had the problem but I did have it often enough to start recording when it happened and how I felt. Those notes are gone. It was annoying but strangely not terrifying. Was I just fatalistic, resigned?
I don’t think the next condition I had was at exactly the same time but the two overlapped. This condition started, I think, during a bout of food poisoning. between races to the toilet, I would relax and fall asleep. The dream would get weird and very realistic and I felt strong dejavu. Then my stomach would tighten and I would awaken trying to remember the dream.
But trying to remember also seemed like a trigger. For the next few years, I would be daydreaming and sometimes my train of thought would take me to a buried memory and as I tried to recall it, suddenly my stoamch would cramp, I would feel weak and have trouble standing – just too tired. Then it would go away. I would get maybe five episodes over a day or a day and half and those episodes would start very intense but fade. I distinctly remember two things. 1) being afraid to remember something for fear it would trigger another attack and 2) trying to remember the scene or event that tantalized just before the attack.
I think the last attack was a year ago, while at a sports camp.
Sometimes, I was unusually tired or sick when either of these attacks occured but for some of them I can’t think of any specific trigger. I don’t recall having both things happen at the same time.
I think the descriptions I gave above are vague and a little scary and I have never been able to make them clearer. The frequency was just too low for me to note any connections between them.
I’m feeling pretty good these days, aside from the entirely understandable pain and stiffness in my legs from all the running. I am eleven kg lighter than last year now. From around 2000 to 2013 or 2014, I was over 90kg and maxed out at 95._kg in the winter of 2014. Could being slimmer and healthier be the difference?
Well, I now wear progressive lens glasses, with the top third being for long distance and the bottom bit for closeups so age is still taking its toll on me.

15 km run

July 16, 2015

I’ll go swimming this afternoon and see if that relaxes my legs.

humble brag

The course was 2.8 km out and back, followed by 1.35 km out and back on the same route times three and 0.65 km and back at the end.  I had planned for a little further but needed to get home and wake up my son for school.

Although I started ten minutes later than I wanted, I am pleased with my planning.  I got up at 4:20 AM and walked around the apartment and got dressed: Vaseline various places where clothes rub and bandages on my ankles for the same reason, standard running clothes and two extra bandannas packed with my Gatorade so I could replace them as they filled with sweat.  I also packed an extra shirt but chose not to make that exchange during the run.  I needed to walk around the apartment before the run to loosen up.  As a middle-aged runner, it takes a while before I can walk comfortably in the morning.

I am not sure how the GPS device in my phone works.  The course was 2.8, 1.35 or .65 km in one direction, followed by a 180-degree turn.  I feel I ran 15km and Mapmywalk recorded 15.89km so maybe at each turn, it pretends I made it to the edge of the error bar, giving me twenty-ish metres extra on each leg.  That doesn’t quite add up.  It also shows a thirty metre change in altitude while the course varied by perhaps five metres.

Anyway, I am proud of the run and will definitely attempt a half marathon in the Fall, when it is cooler.


Summer plans

July 1, 2015

This summer I appear to have a lot of free time.  I hope to work an ESL camp in August and have a few other commitments but essentially I have time to work on my own projects.  Most of these projects deal with writing.

Writing Plans and Goals:

  • 13 blogposts for 6,500 words.  Why 13?  I can’t recall why I chose this number.  Somewhat more than two a week, I guess.
  • 3 short stories: Working titles are 1) Ants, 2) Vampire on a boat and 3) Hyperbaric Chamber.  I’m figuring 2,000 words each
  • Push forward one or all three of the books I have started and let sit.  30,000 words is the goal and I don’t mind jumping from book to book as seems fit. Working titles are 1) Return of the Haloed Hunter, 2) the Distancing Engine and 3) Creationism’s worst arguments
  • 2 letters per week to friends.  Around ten letters and 2,000 words.
  • Perform research and planning for future “Crowded Sky” story. As much as 5,000 words.

To keep the writing interesting, I have made further goals.

  • I want to write over the course of a full day.  That is, at least once in the month write from 12:00 to 1:00 AM, once from 1:00 to 2:00AM …
  • I want to write in a variety of locations.  The local mountaintop has a good table. There are some nice libraries to write in.  I’ll talk about coffee shops in a moment.  Eulsookdo Eco Centre might be a nice place to work in for an afternoon.
  • Soundtrack: I may use Ommwriter which has its own soundtrack but otherwise it will be autoplayed classical music starting with some Janecek and letting Youtube suggest from there. Away from Internet connections, Doug and the Slugs and other 80’s music would work; the tunes are so familiar that they can be white noise or a fun background as needed.

Snacks: I bought snacks for my Nanowrimo writing and I will definitely eat in front of the computer but I need to show restraint here.  My weight is slowly dropping and I want to keep it going in that direction.  Controlling my weight is my greatest concern this summer.


  • 18 runs with an average of 7.0 km.  I hope to attempt a solo half-marathon this summer late one evening and have been working out the course and where to place energy drinks along the way.  I am currently at 96 runs over the past six months so only the weather could prevent reaching this goal.
  • Run faster than a subway train.  The local subway stations Seo-dae-shin and Dong-dae-shin are about 500 meters apart and the train takes 2:35 seconds from doors open at Seo- to doors closed at Dong-.  Further, this route is slightly downhill.  I can easily run this fast on a level surface but Seo-dae-shin is deep underground. I have no qualms or conscience problems about using the escalators but even with that assistance, there is a big climb at the start of the run.
  • Swim 2km at a time. Korean pools are crowded with conversationalists and it is hard to get an unbroken swim in.  I am likely to need to stop a the end of a lane a few times.  Today, I did 1250m, with breaks and could have gone farther.
  • Find 3 snorkeling places in and near Busan
  • For at least 6 days, eat three meals, plus one snack plus one sweet drink.  I snack a lot and plan to spend a lot of time in front of a computer so this will be a challenge.

Education:  I am enrolled in 3 MOOCS.

  • The Bilingual Brain
  • Modern Korean History
  • Archaeology of Portus


  • Teach my son to swim.
  • Go on a weekend trip with the family. I would prefer a swimming site but that is negotiable.
  • Read two books with my son.  I don’t want this to be a purely teaching experience but one we both enjoy.  Tintin is a good contender here.
  • Work on the farm.


Brian is an active blogger

June 30, 2015

I gave a presentation at the Jeju KOTESOL Regional Conference on creativity and in the bio I wrote for their program, I described myself as an active blogger and gave this address.

I still think I am an active blogger but the most recent post before this one on this blog is from …2014, maybe?

I am active at and my presentation slides can be found here.

I do want to re-awaken this blog and some posts in mind.  I just needed to start by allowing any visitors from the conference to find my slides.

See you in a few hours at this address…

Enjoying a short winter- perhaps only because it is short

January 7, 2014

On January 14, my son and I fly back to South Korea.  In Busan today, the temperature is +6C.

Here in Penetanguishene, schools, roads, well, everything is closed because of the blizzard.  The wind is howling and dumping snow and the temperature is below -15C even before wind chill is taken into account.

My son and had fun today anyway.

Winter started early with a lot of snow in early December.  I seem to remember lasting snow only falling around Christmas (and falling for the next ten days straight, but not until then)  This winter, it has been early and constant.

blizzard jan 7 (1 b)

We had to go out the garage door because the front door is snowed in.blizzard jan 7 (2 b)

Even the back door is blocked up.  The wind has actually pushed snow through the screen door so snow has piled up between the doors.blizzard jan 7 (4 b)

Once outside, we built a quinzee.  Outside, the wind was strong and the temp around -15C.  Inside the snow house, there was no wind and the temp was much closer to 0C.  The main problem was having our glasses fog up in the quinzee (1 b)

If we were staying in Ontario for the whole winter, we might soon get sick of the weather.  A short but real winter (again, in Busan it is miserably cool but not cold enough for sledding or making snowmen) is fun and I’m glad to have had the chance to enjoy it.

I sure hope our flight isn’t delayed though.

Late Fall at the Wye Marsh

November 19, 2013

The school groups aren’t doing much at the Wye Marsh this month.  We were incredibly busy in October but there are only occasional groups coming until, I guess, next year when cross country skiing starts up.  A coworker and I felt the need to canoe and see what the marsh looks like in mid-November.

First, I found this wonderful swan-foot print and needed to compare it to my own hand.  Sure, my foot is longer, but this is huge for a 12 kg animal.

DSC09976 b We were using a smaller canoe so we explored areas we couldn’t earlier in the giant ten person canoes.  Here, the edges of the channel were so narrow, we just pulled our boat through.DSC09971 b Did I say, November?  I meant Movember.  Squint or click on the image to increase the size if you cannot see my luxurious mustache!DSC09971 cWe had passed this beaver den almost every day for around five months.  After three weeks away, we arrived to find a cache of small trees and branches with delicious bark for the beavers to access through the winter in front of the den.
DSC09968 b This kestrel is the Marsh’s newest resident of the Birds of Prey program.DSC09966 c

I guess this back end of a cheetah needs a little explanation.  My son loves cheetahs and this is around half of a Christmas gift I am working on for him.  There is more, and another mustache shot at Creativiti Project.  Midland Wood Carvers is a group of carving hobbyists that I sometimes join to beg for assistance and wisdom.  Their workshop is at the Wye Marsh. DSC09981 b