Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Welcome Dinner

Yesterday marked my official introduction to the school.  By 9AM, the start of first period, all of the students had gathered on the playing fields outside of the school.  The teachers stood on broad wooden stairs that lined the hill leading down to the fields while the students stood in rows (it appeared they were sorted by class) facing a pavilion/stage that jutted out of the side of the hill.

I could see the military roots of this country in how the assembly was conducted: the leading emcee would call the boys to attention (arms and legs closed together), and then allow them into a more relaxed stance (legs shoulder width apart, arms behind the back).  We use the same stances at Tae Kwon Do.  I couldn’t help but wonder what American assemblies would be like if the students had to stand and were called to attention, etc.  Perhaps it would build character (though it is more likely there would be a phone call about cruel and unusual punishment even if it isn't).

I do have to say that in general students here are more innocent/immature in social interactions/games, but they seem to all have a sort of quiet, solid character that most American students I worked with did not.  It’s a feeling I will have to keep examining.  It may just be a lack of the “entitlement” attitude (or laziness?) that some American kids have: here they study most of their time, going to private schools until 10PM ever after school lets out, and their naughtiness/stress/frustration because they want to play is understandable.  On the other hand, some American kids expect that things will be handed to them and the concept of devoting time to work might be outlandish at best, so their naughtiness is frustrating for me (and most teachers?) because it is much, much, much less understandable.  (Obviously these are blanket statements and don’t apply to all kids, but the phrase “entitlement attitude” has arisen in America and not here for a reason).  It could also be that there is a lack of or different types of social interactions that take place here because of the time devoted to studying, or that it just has to do with the roots of the culture they have been raised in.  I honestly don't know, but it will be interesting to continue to think about and compare the two. 

Anyway, back to the story.  John (the third grade English teacher that sits next to me in our office), two other teachers, and I were introduced.   Basically my name was called, I stepped forward, bowed, people clapped, and I stepped back.  Woo.  The new principal was also introduced and gave a short speech.  The national anthem and school song were both sang at one point.

After all of my classes for the day (only three and first hour was short because of the assembly!), I had a good discussion about students, education, and school architecture with another one of my (four) co-teachers.  She had been a great resource for feedback and assisting the students who have much lower English levels by supplementing my instructions with some Korean ones and targeting those students.  She is also a part of the English teachers’ class I am teaching… which is basically just us talking in English about current events or whatever we want.  We may read a book too.  We’ll see.

Last night I went to a welcoming party with all of the teachers for myself, John, the new principal, two other new teachers, and two contractual sport/gym teachers.  I was kind of late because I misjudged how long it would take me to walk to the restaurant (I had never gone that way before) and because my door decided not to lock and be a jerk.  My unni called me a ton of times, but my phone was still on airplane/silent from working so I missed them all.  I still feel bad about that – oops.  Will try better next time.

We had delicious food, cooking it at the table in a big bowl.  It had mushrooms, onions, beef, and clear noodles in it.  We wrapped it up in lettuce leaves (YES!) along with rice, a sweet red paste, more mushrooms, and chunks of garlic (which I found out what it was when I just ate one plain… oh my gosh).  At one point I was introduced and had to stand up and bow.  Since I was apparently supposed to say something I got out a “hello”, a bow, and a “nice to meet you” all in Korean.  Bam!  The language didn’t leave me!

I was poured multiple shots by my unni, John, the vice principal, the principal, and another teacher I did not know.  Thankfully most of them were very small and I had some of them mixed with cider.  I also had a shot from another teacher’s glass, which just goes to show how community-oriented Korea is.  It is an interesting experience “being on the inside” if you will.  The vice principal told me I had “pure eyes” after he asked the meaning of my name; another teacher said “Welcome! I love you!” after we poured for each other, and the principal said he was interested in me because we both arrived as new people to the school at the same time.  Thank you all for the welcome!

After the main welcome dinner ended, our little English group of four headed to Ibam-dong (where my apartment is) and went to Beer Castle.  They ordered beers (even one for me - and they are ordered by cc’s rather than pints, bottles, or pitchers) and 안주 (“anju”) which are side dishes.  They teased me for sipping at the beer, but eventually John took it and finished it for me.  Yay John!  Beer tastes gross no matter where you are.

The side dishes that came with the beer included shrimp chips (tasted pretty much like air to me so good), seaweed, soy sauce with red pepper extract, pretzel things with sugar (SUGAR), and silk worm pupa… I just couldn’t do that last one after hearing Michael’s stories, but maybe I’ll work up to it.  Maybe… pretty unlikely.  They kept trying to feed them to me: “Just close your eyes Kathleen.  Don’t worry.”  Uhhhh… no.  Not yet.

Top left, as you can probably guess, is the pupa dish.
We also had fish cake stew (yes, I even ate some, but my stomach started turning… I still see any fish consumption as forward movement though) and barbecue sausage which I picked off the menu.  They made me choose a side dish so I attempted to read through all of the names and lo and behold Konglish did not fail me!  It literally read something like: “ba-bae-keu sa-su-ae-gi”.  I also got an impromptu Korean lesson and I’m thinking my reading speed is increasing.  

It was great!  Especially with the sweet mustard and the ketchup.  I ate too much of it.

I also tried soju with pomegranate vinegar.  Apparently, mixing vinegar and soju in a little pitcher and then drinking it is a thing.  It’s an interesting taste: not bad tasting and not as bitter or acidic from the vinegar as you might initially think.

Someone in the bar also celebrated their birthday and they came around to each table to give a slice of their rice cake and get a drink.  Apparently this is a rare occurrence.  My co-workers mixed the soju, draft beer, and another kind of beer in a mug for him to drink in “one shot”. 

Random side note: If you pour your own drink in Korea when out with buddies, you have to drink it in “one shot!”  (There was also a funny moment when John started singing, “Shots, shots, shots, shots… (x16)… EVERYBODY!”)  Of course that song made it to South Korea.

The rice cake which tasted and felt dense as all rice cakes do, had a white grape jelly filling in the bottom of it.  I ate most of it… I’m pretty sure I won’t need to eat breakfast or dinner ever if I continue to be fed the way I am at school.  I could seriously just eat at lunch and leave some sweet American foods at home for when I get the munchies.  I need to exercise more to fend off these rice cakes I keep getting!  I actually just totally skipped breakfast this morning and felt perfectly fine (other than the upset stomach).  If I hadn’t been craving cinnamon and sugar and proceeded to eat a third of a box of cereal, I probably could have ignored dinner too, even despite the tiny lunch I had.  We also had some kind of green apple yogurt drink at lunch today.  It was different.

Given how bad the wi-fi I’m hopping on is acting, I probably won’t manage to post this for another day or two.  Hopefully my unni will take me out to get an Olleh egg after school tomorrow so I will have my own internet!  Can’t wait for continuous service!

Sorry for the poor picture quality:it was dark and I was carrying around my iPod rather than an actual camera.

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