Teacher's Trip: A Lesson in Snacking and Soju

8:26 PM Jessica Montgomery 0 Comments

Not only am I settling into my role as a teacher in the classroom, but I believe I'm also settling into my role as a teacher in terms of school culture. ("Culture" is a word used often here to describe many different groups and how to act within those groups.) I'm still on the outside looking in, but I feel that my foggy window is slowly becoming more and more transparent. This past weekend is a lovely and prime example.

-Like every experience I have here, I'll try to recap all the details as best as I can -but honestly that's impossible. Everyday I feel like I would be writing War and Peace...

On Friday the cafeteria workers were on a nationwide strike so my coteachers and I ordered delivery food into the office. I've heard ravings about delivery food in Korea and have been dying to partake. But, ya know, ordering over the phone when you don't speak the language is impossible and if you attempt to do so that could be dangerous! Who knows what would show up at your door... A catering truck and a 300,000won bill? No thanks. Anyhoo, my coteachers ordered in Chinese food and had it delivered. I couldn't help but laugh. Here I was, sitting in my English office, in Korea, eating Chinese take-out. What a multidimensional mind-bender that was. But of course Korean-Chinese is different than American-Chinese -dare I say, more authentic? haha They ordered 자장(black noodles), a seafood/noodle soup, fried pork, and fried 만두(dumplings). [And yea, I typed that all by myself on my Korean keyboard. ;) I'm learning!] Lunch conversation was varied and interesting but was cut short because we had to 바리바리(Bali! Bali! Hurry! Hurry!) to finish and pack to make it on the bus with the others for the teachers trip.

As we were loading up boxes of snacks, Mr. Jeong grabbed my hand (in what can only be described as a severely awkward attempt at a Western handshake) and said that he was so happy for me to go on the teachers trip. As was I. Definitely one of my best 'When-In-Korea' choices yet.
Chani was the only one of my coteachers attending the teachers trip so we sat next to each other on every bus, stood next to each other in every line, and pretty much held hands the entire trip. haha She's adorable. Her and some of my new teacher friends completely made the trip. -More on that later. But we boarded the bus and was handed a bag of snacks: cookies, candy, clementines, dried squid and almonds -the usual haha. (That was snack binge number one. And yes, right after that massive lunch.) Mr. Jeong grabbed the microphone on the bus and gave a commencement speech on the way to our first destination: Sudeoska Temple.

The walk up to the temple was absolutely gorgeous. The fall colors should have reminded me of home, but paired with this new landscape they took on a life all their own. There was a little shopping village at the base of the temple and of course I could've bought everything there. But I didn't! I didn't buy anything actually...but I have the feeling I'll be back. Sudeoska is by far one of the most beautiful temples -if not places I've seen in Korea. We were one of the only groups there and had full exploratory-reign. I popped around between Chani and Mr. Jeong gaining bits of knowledge along the way. One being that Sudeoska Temple is famous for the women monks that inhabit it. Cool.

Then it was back on the bus to make it to Anmyeondo Island where we would be staying the night. We stopped and got out of the bus on the causeway that connects Anmyendo to mainland Korea. Anmyendo was originally a peninsula but was detached intentionally years ago. It's since been reconnected by a bridge. Standing on this causeway was interesting. Because of  damming one side of the water was lake, the other was ocean. Our original intent was to view the sunset from this location, but because of the Korean way, we were early. We arrived at our accommodations on the West coast about 2.5 hours later -a youth retreat hostel. It was a very surreal and strange area. It reminded me of an old Western town (Saloons and such) but with modern buildings. Like, Korean architecture had a baby with a spaghetti western. We dropped off our bags in our rooms and headed to the beach.
This beach was gorgeous. At first glance it looked like somewhat of a grey, barren, wasteland. The cold wind was picking up and all the colors that were so vivid at Sudeoska had long faded into the fog. But upon further investigation you could see how teaming with life this beach actually was. Little crabs the size of my pinkie nail were scurrying out from under our footsteps, clams were nestled into tide pools, and new shells were consistently being washed up on shore waiting for me to pick them up. I collected some 'homes' while my fellow teachers were more interested in collecting those whom were...still "at home". haha One of the male teachers had arm fulls of clams ready to be taken to the market for consumption. Only in Korea.
After the beach it was on to dinner. We walked along a dusty beach path, through a fish market full to the brim with creatures, and up a flight of stairs to this restaurant that I'm fairly sure you will never find in any foreigner guidebook. -One of the many things I love about tagging alongside my Korean teachers!
Dinner was....an experience all of it's own. I'm sure could go on and on about the night's festivities, but I'll try to limit myself to the highlights. The food: all new and all interesting. We had ginormous prawns baking over sea salt, raw oysters, spiced raw oysters, quail eggs, sea sponge, sea worms, flounder sashimi, conch shells, sweet potato-pumpkin, dried fish, dried anchovies, fish balls, pickled figs, two types of crab, skate, and....wait for it, wait for it....live octopus. Yes. I've heard tales but this was my first encounter. At first I just watched it. It was truly beautiful -of course absolutely heartbreaking! But beautiful. It was cut up on a plate, drizzled in sesame oil, still squirming about. For the longest time I picked about eating other things, but once my fellow teachers were getting full and I knew that the rest of this creature was going to go to waste; suffering and dying in vain...I went for it. I picked him up with my chopsticks and went for it. In my mind I kept saying over and over: "I'm sorry! I love you! I'm sorry! I love you!" and I can only hope he understood because I felt his little suction cups grab onto my tongue and the roof of my mouth as if he were giving me a little kiss goodbye. Or, he was fighting for his life. haha I'm sure it was the latter... uggghh whyyy
The other, extremely mentionable, adventure from this dinner was the drinking factor. It was a soju-pouring, mekju-swigging, all out alcohol infused time. I took part in many 건배(cheers!) and participated in the tradition of pouring drinks for my elders (principals, etc). Teachers, whose English is good but were too nervous to talk to me prior!, were coming up to me and initiating conversation. One sweetheart of an older man engaged in a conversation with me and Chani and told her (later translated to me) that he feels bad for me. He thinks that I must be lonely here since I don't speak Korean. He said that he wants to look after me as a father would one of his daughters. Adorable. Saying good morning to him today made me happy.
Like I said, I also poured drinks for my principles. Very geisha-like of me I must say. The feminist quadrant of my brain was retaliating...but I just had fun with it. I sat by my principle for a bit and attempted a conversation. It was mostly smiling on accoutn he doesn't speak English. But! To my surprise, out of the blue, he puts his hand up and says: "High five!" I willingly oblige and the entire table erupts in laughter. After having a few...I may or may not of agreed to coach a soccer team in the Spring. haha! Some things were lost in translation...but Chani asked me a few days later if I still "wanted" to do it. An inebriated offer turned into a not so inebriated accepting. haha
But I was called "strong" many times for my soju skills and was given some compliments that only soju can bring out. Example: "I'm in love with your beauty." Ha! Pretty sure the 'lost in translation' factor is in play here. haha But one thing is for sure, these teachers are damn cute!

We walked back through the market, then through the beach in the dark, back to our pension. We made our way into a room, sat in a circle on the floor, and sprawled out...of course, more snacks! I've never seen that many clementines consumed at once...vitamin C overdose! The conversation was mostly Korean with the occasional lean-over-and-translate-to-Jessica action. But I could've cared less. I was having so much fun. I've become quite accustomed to interpretating body language and producing charades that I followed the conversation pretty well. It was funny anyhow. The men of the group were acting like fools and the women of the group were busy rolling their eyes at their actions. Some things are just cross-cultural. Ha! After the Korean national anthem was sung, no joke, it was time for each teacher to stand up and give a little sentimental speech about the teacher's trip. -At least that's what I caught on to. (Did I mention Chani left to go to sleep already by this point? My interpreter!) So teacher after teacher stood up to speak, some longer than others, but most of the women kept in brief. When it came to my turn Mr. Jeong said "say something nice!" So, my improvisational instincts kicked in and I stood up smiling with this idea in my head: recite all the Korean I know! So I rattled off Hello, my name is Jessica. I'm an American. Nice to meet you all again! And then I attempted to say I love Korea. I got a couple puzzled looks then after my last attempt I paused, made a heart shape over my chest with my hands and said it in English. The circle of teachers cheered and began to chant my name! Jess-E-ka! Jess-E-ka! Jess-E-ka! Haha, it was great. I was then given a peeled clementine as a participation gift. Of course!

The night began to die down and teachers were telling me that I looked tired, which I did/was. So I made may way back to our room and curled up on the floor next to Chani. A heated floor. That's how the heating systems in Korea are. At first it was lovely. But after a while my body was rejecting this new-found absorption of heat. It was actually hot! I tried to wrap myself up to protect whatever limbs I could from the floor but I just became...sweaty. So, after a whirlwind teaching and travelling day I was wide awake in a sauna. No sleep for me that night! But I couldn't complain. It gave me time to reflect back on where I was, what I was doing, all that I've done, and all I've yet to do.

The next morning was a wee bit rough. I sat up around 7:30am, got ready and putzed my way across the way to, what can only be called, the mess hall for breakfast. Me and my three room-mate teachers were a little groggy and still full from last nights festivities but we ate a little Korean breakfast anyhow. I drank rice water for the first time that morning. As if my body needed anymore carb-encouragement to pack on some winter blubb...now I can drink my rice too! Damn. After breakfast we packed up and loaded back on the bus to head towards an arboretum. We got there a little bit behind schedule and was only able to walk through a few flower gardens and grab a cup of coffee. Americano! Then it was back on the bus to board a ferry at a local shipping port for our island tour.
When I say island tour I essentially mean touring about huge rocks off the coast for about 2 hours. We never got off the boat and of course...we had more snacks. Me and a group of my new, fabulous, teacher friends piled into a booth on the ferry and talked about everything from weddings to my "small face". haha It's a compliment in Korea to say you have a "small face" -not sure if I've written about that yet. Anyhoo. We snacked on more dried octopus and dried squid and made our way to the bow of the boat. It was beautiful. Looking out on to the water I felt like I was back in the States. Maybe it was the calm sea but I almost felt like I was on a lake. But then I'd turn around, read Korean on the facade of the boat and see the sharp rocks on the horizon to remind myself: No, definitely not Lake Michigan.

Our tour boat docked and we walked through another fish market. I appreciate my fellow teachers wanting to take care of me but sometimes I felt like I was their child! I'd stop to look at a tank or wander down a passage and I'd hear a "Jessica, let's go!" and a tug on my arm. Haha, they didn't want me to stray...which was nice of them. But I also don't want them to feel like I need them to hold my hand. I do ask a lot of questions; mainly to learn and engage in conversation, not because I'm nervous or worried. But I think they might interpret it that way sometimes. Anyhoo! One of the "Jessica, let's go!" moments was for me to be called over to sample a little something. Mr. Jeong hands me a toothpick with a fiery-red globule on the end of it. There was a plastic bag full of fiery-red...goo on the table beside him. He says "Try!". So without hesitation I grab the toothpick, but before I get to put it in my mouth he stops me and asks "Do you know what it is?" Of course not! But has that really stopped me here thus far? Not exactly. So, I laugh and say no. It was a spicy, raw, oyster saturated with fish sauce and red peppers. A little spicy, but mostly briny and earthy tasting. I said "Not bad!" and walked away trying to clear my teeth and mouth of all that I could. Not the yummiest thing on the planet... Mr. Jeong said "Really!?" The vendor ever let out an "OooOOooh!?" Sometimes...I think he likes to push my limits. haha But, I'll never let him get me. Or he will, but I'll never admit to it!
On the bus ride back to Panam we watched this Korean comedy set in the Shilla Dynasty about...ice? Or something. I don't know, it was hard to follow. But all i know there was a lot of ice, and spanking, and farting in mining tunnels, and cheesy dramatic closeups. Very Korean. Anyways. I came home, unpacked, changed, went out, and had a fabulous night.

Sunday I had my first rehearsal with the Daejeon theatre group. I am beyond excited to be a part of this show and truly honored to be cast. My director is fabulous. A little intimidating, but fabulous none-the-less. He is a classically trained actor and has been in the acting/directing..and yes, opera singing profession for 15 years in South Africa before coming to Korea. His directing style is different from what I'm used to but I know it will only make me a better actor. My two cast mates are lovely and I feel like we are gelling instantly.
The date of the performance is December 22nd and we will be performing in a 300 seat university theatre. And! Here's the extremely exciting part. We are collaborating with a group in Seoul and there is a chance that we may take this show on the road to Seoul. Incredible.

Sometimes, it's worth taking a chance. [Since I've come to Korea that statement seems a little watered down. "Sometimes" needs to be upgraded to "always".]


School side notes: This past Sunday was 빼빼로 (peppero)day. Which means you give chocolate sticks to those you like. I'm proud to say that I received a few boxes. :) All are gone now of course...uggh.
And on my walk to the subway yesterday a few of my more advanced students came up to me, said hello, and asked where I was going. I said home and pointed to each one of them asking them same. One by one each said "hogwan", "hogwan", "hogwan" (afterschool-school) except for the last girl who said "home". And I said "oh really?" To which she replied: "Hogwan is my home." I don't know if I should admire her witt or feel sad! Only in Korea...and China and Japan I'm assuming.

It's Thursday!!! woof.

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