Thursday, September 16, 2010

Apple-Flavored Soju and the Goddamned Flat Chopsticks

I've just been handed a bottle of canola oil for no discernable reason. I am gnoshing on gigantic purple grapes and fresh tomatoes. My vice principal, two desks away, is wearing a pink glitter tie.

Just another day in the office.

So... it's been an interesting 48 hours. On Tuesday morning, Mrs. Kim informed me that I was being sent away for a day to go get "mentored". Whatever. No school. Wednesday morning, I slept in until SEVEN THIRTY A.M. And it was glorious. It's really about the small pleasures here.

My particular mentoring experience was set up with the native speaker at Seolbong Middle School, which is about a fifteen minute trot from my apartment. It was a part of town I hadn't really been in before, and I discovered about three fried chicken restaurants I had no idea existed. (Korea Fun Fact: People really dig fried chicken here. Well, chicken is all of it's forms actually. I have absolutely no problem with this, but it does make me laugh.)

Anyway. I got to Seolbong Middle, which is signifcantly larger than Daewol. I kind of wandered around looking for the admin office, and eventually got steered in the right direction. Right as I got back into the hall, I spotted my mentor for the day, Adrian. Now, I don't know if I just have this really U.S.-centric view of English speakers, but I was surprised to discover that Adrian was South African. As it turns out, about half of the English teachers here in Icheon are South African. Cool.

Basically my day consisted of Seolbong students alternately staring at me or ignoring me, and sitting on Adrian's couch in the back of the English room. I think the idea was that I was supposed to observe his teaching style and ask him questions that my co-teachers just wouldn't understand... for seven hours. But Adrian is a nice guy, and answered all of my "OhmahgodIjustdon'tunderstandthisfreakingcountry"-type queries.

Then we looked at comics.

Adrian introduced me to this website: It's basically these comics for/by foreigners about the perpetual weirdness and contradiction that is Korea. Illicits cries of "That's SO true!" every five minutes. Take a gander.

So, the teaching stuff was all well and good, and I did take some of Adrian's advice about discipline style, but the real value of the day came after class was over. Adrian and I left the school at about 4:30 PM and briefly met up with one of his friends, Dawn, (another South African teacher here) who invited me to dinner with a group of Icheon English teachers. Hello spontaneity.

Obviously, I have very little resembling a social life, and I'd been wondering where all the Icheon expats were hiding, so I was in. Turns out they'd been about two blocks away the whole time; the restaurant we ended up at was about one street over from my apartment.

And then I met about half of the foreigners in Icheon.

Talk about a diverse group. Just a sampling from the party: a bubbly, vivacious South African woman, a newbie from Philly, two seminarians, a West Coaster, an East Coaster, a Minnesotan and me.

So about midway through the meal, I realize that I am in Icheon, South Korea, discussing the Ground Zero mosque project with two seminary students, one Korean/Canadian, one Kenyan, eating Korean fried pork and downing countless liters of Cass beer. Living in Korea is like a constant exercise in surrealism.

After dinner, a few of us went out for further alcohol, at a second-floor bar named "Cheers". Seven shot glasses and pitchers of neon-green apple soju appear, and it's sweeter than sweet. We're talking about bridges and Costco and the DMZ and mac and cheese and it's great.

We're all having dinner again tonight, with the happy addition of Gustie.

It's all just... interesting.

I sort of realized it this afternoon- this is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to make something new for myself; I wanted to have something throw me off balance. I'm like a weeble wanting to be wobbled. And Korea's doing it. But right now... it's really good. Even when it's aggravating and awkward and infuriating.

It's really really good.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

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