Irish dancing, DJ Phil, and My Left Foot: a cautionary tale.

This is what my foot looked like after a failed attempt at an Irish jig over the St. Patrick’s weekend.

footAnd this is what it looks like a week later.

dying foot

I expect it will fall off any day now.

Of course, once again I made the mistake of numbing the agony with a lot of vodka, which works wonders at the time but also leads you to think that the injury isn’t all that bad and therefore you can walk on it as normal. Cue an awful lot of pain the next morning when you wake up and realise that there is absolutely no way you should have been standing on it, let alone dancing around the bar at 3am.

Yes, it’s great being a sensible grown-up!

As I lay bedridden and helpless, unable to walk, and occasionally crawling (literally crawling) to the freezer for more ice to put on my multicolored skin, I was reminded of the first time I sprained my ankle. It was about 10 years ago, and yet the circumstances are so similar that you’d be forgiven for thinking my life hasn’t changed at all since then. Both incidents involved a bar, vodka, and me merrily trying to do something that was obviously rather stupid.

When I was at uni in Glasgow, I frequented a Student Union pub called The Barony Bar. On Fridays, immediately after lectures, we would all head there for TFI Friday – an event that can only be described as organised chaos fueled by cheap booze. The shenanigans were hosted by one DJ Phil, a stocky, cocky English guy who kept the crowd entertained with a pub quiz, cheesy music, and games. It was a very popular event, not least because of the infamous “Happy Half Hours”. For 30 minutes each Friday, pints of beer were 50p each. (Americans, I think that’s about 80 cents.) Yep. Then, for the next 30 minutes, vodka-mix drinks were 50p each. Yep.

It didn’t matter which one of these was your beverage of choice; when the first announcement was made, every single person went to the bar for their 4-beers-per-person allowance. Half an hour later, every table was groaning under the weight of hundreds of 50p beers, at which point the second announcement was made and everyone went back to the bar for their 4-vodkas-per-person allowance. I really wish I’d had a phone with a camera back in those days, because I sound like I’m exaggerating when I say that every available surface, including the floor, was covered in plastic cups of vodka and beer. It was quite a sight.

By the time all the beer and vodka had been imbibed, DJ Phil’s antics had generally reached utterly ludicrous levels of stupidity which obviously seemed completely hilarious to the crowd of drunk 20-year-olds drinking 50p alcohol. He would issue impossible, embarrassing, and/or mildly dangerous challenges with the promise of – oh, yes! – free booze for anyone who was successful. One particularly stupid day, the challenge seemed to involve (from what I could hear over the roar of the crowd) DJ Phil placing one end of a long piece of toilet paper between an unfortunate volunteer’s buttocks, giving him a pint of beer, lighting the other end of the toilet paper on fire, and shouting “DRINK!”. The idea was that if he could finish the beer before the flames reached his bare backside, DJ Phil would put out the fire and the guy would win, oh, I dunno, more beer. If not… maybe they let him burn to death, who knows?

My parents thought I was off at university, like, learning and stuff.

So the crowd was going insane, there was cheering and shouting and clapping, DJ Phil was narrating the whole ridiculous experience into the microphone, and my friends and I were stuck at the back of the bar, unable to see over the hundreds of excited, jumping, drunk people. It was at this point that I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to climb up on to a rickety wooden bar stool in order to try to catch a glimpse of whatever the hell was going on on the stage. Alas! I still couldn’t get a clear view, and I turned sadly to report this to my waiting friends. My memory of exactly what happened as I stepped off the stool is somewhat muddled, but I most certainly did not land on my feet as intended.

I picked myself up in the way that one does after an embarrassing public fall, laughing it off and insisting that I was fine, totally fine, perfectly fine, hahaha. It was only after about 15 minutes of excruciating pain, when someone pointed out that my face had turned ghostly white, that I confessed in a whimpering voice that perhaps I wasn’t really all that fine after all, and promptly burst into tears. I ended up sitting outside on the stairs, having my swollen ankle bound and strapped by a member of the student volunteer medical team, before limping back into the bar to find that my concerned friends had helpfully clubbed together to purchase a line of shots and vodka for medicinal purposes. By the end of the night I was dancing without a care in the world to the music of a really bad Elvis impersonator.

I couldn’t walk for a week after that.

I used to tell that story in a nostalgic “when I was young and foolish” kind of way, but given the current condition of my foot, I think it’s probably time to accept that this is just the way I am…

Hakuna matata

Oh, wow. This is a whole new world.

To my fright, my alarm woke me up as usual on Friday when it was barely daylight. I lay there with my standard morning hatred of the world before remembering that Thursday had been my last day at work. I switched off the alarm.

Oh, the joy!

No longer am I a slave to a 9-6 routine! After 3 and a half years of staggering around in the semi-darkness looking for a clean coffee cup and a matching pair of socks, I am able to lie in bed until I wake up naturally and then get up and do things at a leisurely pace! I think we can safely agree that morning starts are just not for me.

Mind you, nor is unemployment. I spent yesterday, in its entirety, asleep. Then I met a friend for dinner and drinks, and was back in bed by 11. I have no doubt that I could continue in this fashion until I simply run out of money or am being treated for bedsores, which is why I had the good sense and self preservation skills to get myself a part time job for my last couple of months in Korea.

Honestly, this job makes me question what on earth I have been doing for the past few years. I now work 5 hours, twice a week, from 2-7pm. Just to be clear: I am free as a bird 5 days a week, and on the 2 days I work, I start 5 hours later than I used to, yet finish only an hour later than before. Granted, the classes are back to back with none of the breaks I’ve been used to, but it’s so busy and fast-paced that my first day today just flew past. There’s no preparation – I just teach straight from the books. No cleaning. No homework or tests to mark. No stress. No paperwork. Nothing. Nothing!!!!! Go in at 2pm, teach for 5 hours, go home! Honestly, I am in teacher heaven after the exhaustion and overwork of the past few years.

My first day also reminded me how much I have changed, as a person, since I first came to Korea. I was once a very nervous, panicky, shy girl with no self-confidence and a tendency to worry myself sick about absolutely everything. I mean, literally sick, as anyone who ever saw me on driving test day(s), flight days, or job interview days could confirm.

I arrived at the hagwon today with genuinely no idea what I was meant to be doing. Hi, hi! said the principal, a non English speaker and apparently the only member of staff currently in the building. Where do I go? What do I do? I asked her in Korean, which was absolutely pointless as she then answered me in Korean and, well, I don’t  really understand Korean. We looked at each other for a moment and she gestured at me to sit. I sat. She then wandered around, going about her business as if I hadn’t appeared, except for a brief exchange when I paused from having Kakao chats on my phone just to check that she still remembered I was there. At this point – rather bizarrely – she greeted me all over again.



There was a time in my life when this would have thrown me into a confused spin, but instead I simply continued to Kakao-chat to my friends about the matter, in a sort of live-blogging manner, while I waited for something sensible to happen.

Nothing sensible happened.

I sat there for a while longer, now with children coming up to me and asking if I was their teacher, and all I could do was smile dopily and say “Uhhhhhhh, I dunno! Want some gum?”. Was I meant to be teaching them? Was I meant to be preparing a lesson? Was I meant to be there at all? Who knew? So I just sat and waited for something sensible to happen.

Nothing sensible happened

Instead, an English-speaker arrived in a whirlwind of chaos, threw a book at me, and shoved me into a classroom full of children.

No, seriously.

That is actually what happened.

Hello, Hayley? Hi! Here is book! This room. 30 minutes. Now start, please! :::door slams shut:::

Old Hayley would have freaked the hell out at this point. Today’s Hayley has seen it all and only gets flustered at really big problems (like the bar running out of vodka, or finding a cockroach in the bathroom). A dozen pairs of eyes stared up at me; a dozen voices whispered and giggled and speculated. You just have to remember that the worst thing that can happen is you abandon the lesson to play a game of hangman. That is as far wrong as it can go, seriously. Why worry? Why be scared? Why was I always so nervous and panicky before? What was I actually afraid would happen? I’d be mobbed and have my flesh torn off my bones by a gang of bloodthirsty 11-year-old Korean kids?

I made a big game of introducing ourselves while I surreptitiously inspected one of their books to ascertain where the last teacher had stopped, repeated all their names in a jovial voice as I skim-read a couple of pages to see the topic and get the general gist of the lesson, and then just started teaching. If they looked bored, I told a joke or did a silly dance or turned the book exercise into a game. 30 minutes (just 30!) flew past, and everyone survived. Easy! A 10-year-old could do this job, I swear.

Out of nothing more than mild curiosity, I moseyed back into the office to find out what I was meant to do next, and was this time given a slightly overwhelming stack of books and a list of confusing and garbled instructions about exactly which parts of each books I was to teach, and to which classes, and by when. After all this time of dealing with hagwon colleagues, I know exactly how to cope. Ask very specific questions, preferably paraphrased at least twice for clarity. Point and mime a lot. Write everything down and ask for confirmation. When time is limited, focus only on the most important details and wing it on the rest until a later date. And most importantly, if you remember only one thing from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Teaching in Korea (or something): DON’T PANIC.

Yes, my time in Korea has done something amazing for me. It has turned me from the world’s biggest worrier into someone who is not only laid-back, but perhaps even actually goes with the flow and is (finally!) able to calmly assess the situation and deal with it the best that I can. Without tears. With a smile. Usually trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

Thanks, Korea! This can only serve me well in my future endeavours. :)