There is no excuse. At my age I should be making better decisions about my wardrobe. The problem is I'm awful at making decisions. I usually wait until the last minute or just let others decide for me. Sometimes coin flips are involved.
For this reason I was dreading the end of May, a time when I'd have to decide whether or not to extend my contract. As usual, I waited until the last minute to make up my mind. But I also did something unusual. I sat down and made a list of reasons to stay and reasons to go. Mostly because I've been really into T-charts lately.
If I Stay In Korea
Get to hang out with Koreans
already have an enjoyable job
can travel more
Lil Kim is closer
don't have to search for a new residence
If I Go Home
Get to hang out with Koreans
have to look for an enjoyable job
can wear shoes inside
Zak Metzger is closer
don't have to take a bus to find cheese
The decision was too difficult, I knew I should just let nature take it's course and flip a coin. So I did.
"Heads" I would stay in Korea, "Tails" I'd schedule a flight home.
I was using a Korean 50-Won piece though, so I had to modify the rules: Alright "Stalk Of Rice" stay in Korea, "Tails" go home.
It was the Stalk Of Rice.
So now that I'm locked in for the time being, I've made an ambitious list of sites to tackle. One attraction on the list was Haesingdong park, about 45 minutes north of the power plant that ruins my water.
Our region is famous for crabs and mushrooms, but dedicating an entire park to mushrooms is a little ridiculous. I mean there were mushrooms everywhere. Big ones, small ones....short mushrooms, tall ones. There were white mushrooms and black mushrooms. Mushrooms coming out of mushrooms, mushrooms going into mushrooms.
If you go to Uljin there is a zoo. Inside this zoo there is a bear. He is a small bear. Small because no one feeds him. He also has no friends. The only thing this bear does have is less than average intelligence.
I lied. He didn't really feast, just looked confused when we gave him the fish. This is how I know Bearsly has less than average intelligence.
We had to explain to him...Bearsly look, you should eat the fish. He finally understood, and proceeded to paw at them like a cat before digging in to what I hope was a delicious meal.
There is a Children's Day, Parent's Day, Teacher's Day, Science Day, Sports Day, and probably a Brother's Day (happy Brother's Day Kevin and Matt.)
On Teacher's Day an event took place in Uljin for the faculty and staff of surrounding schools, consisting of a single elimination volleyball tournament and a jump rope competition.
I'm kind of embarrassed to tell you that I legitimately trained specifically for Teacher's Day. I did vertical jumps in dark alleys so no one would see me, and visualized blocking small Korean women on a 6-foot net.
This didn't work. With a mean age of 47 we took 3rd place after a heartbreaking loss in the semi-finals.
Fortunately a jump rope victory secured the overall title for Maehwa Elementary, which made our cheering section hit a full assortment of bongo drums harder than necessary.
In all fairness the two teams in the finals were just as serious as Maehwa, and so was volleyball Sasquatch. Oh yeah I saw Bigfoot there in full gear, and he caught me taking pictures of him.
A celebratory hwesik ensued that night, leaving me in one of the more uncomfortable situations I've encountered here. It's rather inappropriate for publication so I'll probably just tell my 8 year-old niece. Here is a hint.
A fellow expat named Nick accompanied me upon invitation, and we were able to deduce the practice location to spontaneously join for a Monday night session. They reinforced the rules, put us through peppering drills, bought chicken and beer, then invited us to a tournament on June 9th.
It's hard for me not to laugh when I think about this. I am in rural Korea in a random gymnasium with a bunch of middle aged men who are good at volleyball. But, after sitting through tens of Penn State and Hempfield High School volleyball matches, I still have no idea how to volleyballs. I don't know the name of my position or where to go when things happen. I wish someone could watch these practices to see how absurd the situation is.
Luckily we have four coaches telling us exactly what to do. In Korean, which I don't understand. When we huddle up the team argues about us in Korean. Then there are the pump-up chants, which we don't know, so just have to make noises that sound like Korean words.
After weeks of practice the tournament finally rolled around,, and the atmosphere was very serious....with a few exceptions. There were occasional delays because too many players were smoking cigarettes between plays. At times the cigarette would be consumed in the gym. Some teams would also target their opponents with soju shots before games, at roughly 11 a.m.
Miraculously our squad, "Kum Kang," ended up in the semi-finals against neighboring "Jukbyeon." I had met one of Jukbyeon's players weeks prior, and we exchanged phone numbers that day. He told me to call him "Bum," then proceeded to text me as follows.
1.Where are you? ERIK (3:58 pm)
2. What are you doing? (3:59 p.m.)
3. Fishing? (6:07 pm)
4. Fishing are you doing? ERIK (6:08 pm),
5. where, who? (6:11 p.m.)
6. I'm with my girlfriend? (6:12 pm)
7. sorry (6:13 pm)
8. do you as a girlfriend? (6:13 pm)
Keep in mind I couldn't respond to any of these because my phone was inaccessible, so basically got a bundle of those exact eight texts all at once.
It was difficult playing against a man as amiable as "Bum," but Kum Kang came from behind to reach the finals before falling to the tournament favorites. I'm sorry that we beat you Bum, but the waygook wall did what it had to. We'll go fishing soon.
My teammates seemed thrilled with our outcome, particularly a random man who wasn't on the team but still came to the celebratory dinner. He clearly had been targeted heavily with soju by all the opposing teams, and he clearly enjoyed high fives. I counted 27 of them, from the beginning of dinner until he knocked over so many things he had to leave.
So yeah. Soon I will be traveling across Korea in a car, with men I don't know, who I can't communicate with, to play a sport I'm not good at, and don't know the rules to.
Then again, that's probably what I'd be doing back home anyway. Perhaps my decision to stay wasn't so important after all.