Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Korea - The first visit to jail

Hello everyone!

We got back from Thailand in the wee hours of Monday - as expected, it felt cold, but it's almost resembled spring this week. It got up to close to 15'C at one point! T-shirt weather, for sure. Anyway, I had to go into school to prove I was back in the country - for some reason, they're under the impression I like travelling and may be the kind to do a runner - so I decided to get this out of the way early. The look on Mr Kim's face when he saw my hair was priceless. His quote, 'What happened to you?' was also pretty funny.

I didn't tell anyone that I had got braids whilst away, instead choosing to see people's natural reactions. Most were shock, but mixed with smiles and then a general acceptance that it does kinda suit me. In fact the only person to openly criticise was my mum, who over Skype told me that I 'look like a seven-year-old girl'. And you think that will inspire me to send a Mother's Day card?

I made cutting down on excess was a priority upon returning. The reasons are three-fold: money now needs to be more carefully watched; if I keep up the amount of times I eat out and drink heavily I'll become very sluggish and chubby; and I have a half-marathon I need to prepare for. Needless to say, I didn't try very hard in the first week back, and drank just about every day. However, I did have the week off, as the new school year starts in March, so I did get some miles into my legs. Being a regular at the gym means that the man on reception seems to be giving me a discount each time I go. I'm telling myself that it's because I try to talk to him in Korean, but he probably just thinks I'm 'handsome'. He ain't the only one.

I seem to get the word 'handsome' a lot. I went to help Ellen decorate her new classroom in the middle school. Within seconds of walking in some female students approached me and I entertained them with who I was, and as I walked away they all shouted 'handsome!' in my direction. Ellen heard this, and seemed a little put out that it had happened within seconds of me coming into her school, but I think the levels of adoration would be much higher if she came into my school. They are older and are in their maturing age, after all.

I helped for a while until I had to leave to do an exteral lesson. I did some external teaching during the week, but I'm not going to go into detail about that, as it could get me into trouble and then incriminate me if I try to play dumb. I've probably just done that by writing this sentence, but I highly doubt that any of the teachers here know what incriminate means. Besides, I haven't told them how to find this blog.

I did also have to go to my school to move my possessions into a new office. This school year I am now in an office with seven other teachers. Not that I needed it, but I wasn't offered any help during this process. Every teacher was glued to internet streams: every student was walking around or in class glued to their portable TVs and cellphones. Kim Yu-Na was in the middle of her routine at the Winter Olympics, after all. She did rather well, what with getting a world record and gold medal, so everyone in school was very happy. It reminded me of being in school in 2002 when the World Cup was on, and swarming around the select few who had portable TVs and radios to find out what was happening. Excellent stuff.

I had planned on going for a run after moving things around, but was told that I was going to the teachers' initiation dinner instead. Well, I guess I can do that. However, I normally shower at the gym (it's an incentive to go, and I'm hoping it will help cut down my extortionate bills), so needed to pop home to shower and change. Quick point about those gym showers while I'm on the topic - as I'm now a regular, there are people in there who feel they see me enough to come and talk to me. In the shower. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually now quite comfortable with it. Well, relatively. It is nice that they take an interest in foreigners, and are confident enough to try to talk to them. I think they like it when I try to mumble something back to them in Korean as well.

When walking back I walked over the bridge and noticed a man cycling towards me. People normally do this, but this time it seemed different. Mainly because the person had an auburn-coloured beard. That ain't Korean. Feeling sociable - I knew I had to be in a sociable mood for the new teachers who were soon to bombard me - I said hi, and he stopped. He wasn't Korean, I got that bit right. English, in fact. And lived in Siheung?! I can't remember exactly, but he said he lived pretty near to where I lived. His name was Matt (good start), and we exchanged numbers and agreed to meet up soon, as I had to get back to school.

Other Westerners I've never seen before also seem to be coming out of hibernation of late. There is also a guy who I met in the gym, called Geoff, and a couple called Mark and Polly who moved here in the last week. It's a very strange feeling not being the newbie, and actually giving advice to new people and sounding as if I have a clue what I'm talking about. That's a skill I got from Politics being part of my degree, I guess.

So this initiation dinner. I can't see them ever doing this in Britain. About 60-70 teachers went to a restaurant where they served duck. It's called o-ri out here, and it was cooked in a similar way to galbi, on one of those table barbecue things. I was sat next to Mr Kim and some of the other teachers from my new office. I soon discovered that the other teachers in this office, with one exception, were not new English teachers. Not even English teachers. And couldn't speak English. That will make the rest of the year interesting. At this point Mr Kim disappeared for a long period of time, so it was left to me to try to talk to the people on my table. Try being the operative word. I need to keep reminding myself that most people out here won't speak English - if they did, I wouldn't have this job, and consequently wouldn't be having this awesome experience. And why should they have to learn English? I'm the only one there who can't speak Korean. The impetus for language learning should be on me, not them.

During the dinner each new teacher had to go to the front of the restaurant with a microphone, introduce themselves, and then down a beer which had a soju shot in it - that somaek stuff Juno introduced me to. Even if they were driving. Hilarious, but bettered by the two new vice-principals, who brought out an industrial-sized bucket of beer and some rather large petri-dishes. Put two and two together, folks. Everyone had to do one. Me being the affable foreigner, I was given three.

The duck was fantastic. I probably ate about four ducks during the dinner. The problem was this was all we ate. I had no base to soak up any alcohol, and was feeling, how can I put it, 'fresh', at the end. Mr Kim seemed drunk, but hadn't driven over, so it was left to another English teacher to get me home. I was up for staying, actually, but I did have another plan. A couple of hours down the line, I was in Bucheon. This wasn't really part of the plan, but I was waiting for Alicia and Tom to finish teaching and come across, and Kelly told me that her and her friends were out, so I joined them while I waited.

We were in a bar that sold beer in towers, which instantly reminded me of fresher's week in Manchester. It took a bit longer to drink this one. We started talking to some Koreans in the next booth, and they fed me something. Pretty soon we were moving on and in a different place, where I met another person who lived in Siheung. I had seen Brenda before, but we had never really chatted, and it turned out that she didn't know anyone in Siheung, so hung out almost exclusively in Bucheon. I've been in that position, so I told her I would introduce her to people next week. We played pool for a while, my eyes not exactly focusing, but soon I got the call I had been waiting for.

Myself, Ellen, Alicia and Tom were going to jail bar. I have mentioned it in these blogs before, but as a refresher, it is a bar that is themed as a prison, with each booth being a jail cell. There is also a stage, where people get summoned to do often-provocative dances, and at some point an auction takes place, where the dancer is 'bought' and has to spend time in the company of the buyer. As far as I understand it, anyway.

We had to wait a while for a table, and then the other three made up for lost drinking time. Four jugs of soju cocktails between four of us? OK then. I was obliged to keep pace, but was already drunk at this point. We were the only Westerners there, so got a lot of attention, and soon enough I was summoned onto the stage to, ahem, 'perform'. Justin Timberlake came on, and I started a very spontaneous routine. All those teenage years I spent avoiding doing anything dance-related was coming back to bite me here, so I'm thankful that I don't remember too much of this, or the aftermath. However, I do recall the memorable moment, when I fell over, tried to turn it into a breakdancing spin by putting my arm out, missing, and crashing to the floor of the stage. Cue collective 'ooh' from the cells. I didn't win, surprisingly.

The alcohol got the better of me at this point. I'm told that I disappeared, probably to remove some of the soju cocktails from my body, and then must have just left. An intermittent image involving my head, an open taxi window and soon being kicked out reasonably close to my flat flashed back the next day. Use your imagination, or don't (mum). Quality night though, and another normal weekend in Korea was just beginning...

Love you all


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