I even considered buying puppiesvsbabies.com to state my case. But I can't, because my Dad already owns every weird domain.
Let's get one thing straight though, puppies are not cuter than the students at Maehwa Elementary School. I promised some pictures at the end of my last post, so I had to deliver.
The second to last picture above is by far my favorite. The student in the center, "Devon," never ceases to amaze me. I created a warm-up game where we all stand in a circle and take turns jumping in the middle, doing some random action. Everyone on the circumference has to copy the moves they see.
Come to think of it this may have been subconsciously inspired by a Dan Deacon concert, but that's not important. What's important is that Devon constantly seems to be in the middle.
Every single time he comes up with some promiscuous dance move, each more original than the last, and all being very inappropriate. If Devon were one of my students with stripper names things would get a bit too real.
As the game usually progressed, there are a bunch of 10 year-olds dancing around my room like I'm shooting a rap video while Devon is at the helm directing a choreographed masterpiece. I'm afraid teachers walking by will call the police, otherwise I'd let it happen for all 40 minutes, the kid is that hilarious.
Getting to know students like Devon and my fellow teachers has enabled me to comfortably settle into the routine of teaching; becoming more improvisational and less structured with each class. One such growing bond happens to be with our school's principal, Mr. No.
It's difficult to confirm through the language barrier but I'm 73% certain he is incredible. On the first day of school I caught Mr.No crouching behind his car smoking a cigarette as kids were leaving school.
He smiles at everything, and when I asked him if he wanted coffee after lunch one afternoon, Mr. No thought it was so funny he spit his drink all over the staff lounge. I didn't think it was funny, but everyone laughed at me. I drank my coffee alone that day.
On the topic of drinking, things are slightly different here. In America teachers meet to figure out how to stop drinking. In Korea teachers meet to drink.
About once or twice a month social gatherings known as "hwesiks" take place for teachers and staff. These meetings are customary throughout the country as a way to establish bonds outside the professional boundaries of school, and a portion of everyone's salary goes into a pool to help fund such excursions.
For our first hwesik of the year we went to a Korean barbeque joint in downtown Uljin. This consisted of twenty or so employees cooking raw slabs of pork over hot coals, with the usual assortment of side dishes. The soju was abundant, causing true personalities to seep through the typically reserved exteriors of my colleagues.
For those of you unfamiliar with soju, its basically a cheap vodka-like beverage available at every convenience store for a dollar or two. Needless to say soju has become a staple of Korean culture. Frequently it's mixed with beer (mek-ju) to create "so-mek." I've found Koreans to be very into mixing beverages and foods, though I'd advise following their creations not trying to create your own mixtures. Sprees and instant Ramen for example are not ideal. In fairness I only tried one flavor and they were the only foods in my apartment.
At my inaugural hwesik every new teacher was expected to give a speech, and no one told me this. When it was my turn to toast, I literally said every Korean word I knew in a row. I think the rough translation was: "Hello, my name is Erik. It is nice to meet you. I am from the United States of America. Hello for me please. How do I get to the bus stop? Chicken. Thank you. Sports and Milk."
I eventually gave up and started speaking English as everyone laughed at me, definitely not with me. I felt like I was drinking coffee alone again.
Immediately afterwards, the joke continued when another teacher pointed out the holes in my socks. The teachers made a series of comments about me being poor as they were translated live by my the only other being in the room who knew English. I could feel either the attention or soju turning my face red. Ironically it made me stand out less because everyone in the room had Asian glow.
I thought we were done eating and drinking after about 2 hours of nonsense, when someone asked if I was ready for dinner. Assuming this was yet another joke, I gave a courtesy laugh before seeing giant bowls being carried in by waitstaff. There was more food.
Now I come from a long line of big eaters. When my Dad was 25, he consumed so much salted popcorn my mother almost rushed him to the hospital for dehydration treatment. A lifetime of training didn't matter, there were three 100-pound women and one 300-pound woman sitting near me, pushing me to the limits. I felt like a child as they steadily consumed for hours. All I could think about was getting my leg stuck again at my apartment.
But they weren't done, no. Next we all went to a noraebang (singing room) for another 2 hours. As if I didn't already feel small from the night's events, every single Korean was like this kid.
This really, really freaked everyone out. I mean legitimately. They tried to act interested, but no one could understand the song or why I almost started crying during the last verse. Completely demoralized, I took a seat and watched my mentor teacher "Q" reinvent the dance circle while Korean pop hits played for the rest of the night.
Please try to put this hwesik into personal context. You are 12. All of your teachers, on a Tuesday, leave school early and go to a bar. They eat and force each other to take shots for hours, then haze all the new teachers and make fun of the foreign one for being poor.
Someone suggests that everyone go to a singing room to drink more, half-seriously mentioning that you won't get paid if you don't go. Here, every teacher somehow manages to sing like a bird. After 5 hours of nonsense most teachers, regardless of state, drive home. The remainder return to school grounds....for more drinks. The next morning everyone acts like nothing happened while naive students assume their teachers were planning lessons all evening.
Oh and the school pays for it.
And that's not the strange part. The strange thing about hwesiks is that they actually work. After meetings like this you grow closer to your colleagues and tend to operate as a more cohesive unit, even if no one speaks of the nights events.
Alright time to inquire about my hot water heater so I can shower.. I'm in danger of becoming the smelly kid at school and I'm not even a student.
p.s. That picture of ugly baby Yoda is actually me. Hot, I know.