Wednesday, December 15, 2010

School Outtings and culture shock

So, today was our monthly school outting together. Yep, every month we get a half day off school, always on a Wednesday to 'bond'....I guess. My co-teachers tell me its a "Teacher Workout day" which at first had me imagining teachers in the latest sports gear (because in Korea you would ONLY be wearing the latest) from head to toe (and you would be wearing it EVERYWHERE including all accessories you can get your hands on) firing themselves up for some serious (and yes it would be, these guys are competitive) sports.

However I was wrong....Teacher workout day actually was to mean, TEACHERs go and do WORK  OUTside of school. So each month we are all supposed to visit a new place, spend time together and then write a report on the day (not myself, pah I can't write Korean). What happens in reality is usually very different....

The first 'workout day' everything followed suit we went to Gyeongju and had coffee. However, following this everything changed. Usually 2 of the teachers from the office either go home or spend time with teachers from other departments and myself, my co-teacher and the 3 PE teachers usually go for coffee. There was however one glorious occasion where the previous Principle requested pictures of 'Our day out to Homigot', PAH, What to do???

EASY: Drive to Homigot, run about like fools in front of every landmark taking dynamic staged pictures then go home. Time taken: 20 mins drive, 5 mins of pictures...DONE.

Today was the end of school meal. Its a big one and such a special occasion in Korea can only mean...... Raw Fish!! Yep, its a delicacy here, very expensive and apparently 'delicous'. Now, I do not particularly like raw fish and nor do quite a few people in my school but everyone goes anyway and no allowances to the menu are made. Its at these particular meetings I still feel a sense of 'culture shock'.

Raw muscles anyone?

For me, as a foreigner, school meals feel a bit like a duty if I am honest. Part of me wants to go as I love Korean hospitality (they have to be globally the most welcoming and attentive people) and Korean company (I want all the Korean friends I can find) and when invited I always think about these things first.

Although, once in the company of 50 other teachers, very few of which speak your language I start to struggle. Firstly, at these meals very few words are spoken to me, although I usually sit at a table of 4 teachers able to speak English very very well. I understand that they probably get so emerged in conversation and making an effort with each other, it doesn't really occur to them that I'm lost. I usually try to involve myself in conversation just by looking interested (although I have no idea whats going on around me), followed by getting angry at myself for not learning more Korean and feeling like an ignorant tourist.

2 hours later and I feel deflated, for someone who likes to talk SO much, 2 hours of feeling like a deaf mute is painful. Food wise, I usually try everything offered to me and  I usually find things I like, especially if theres cooked seafood on offer! Delicious!

Spicy Seafood Soup- Tasty!

Trying some raw fish

Still chewing

I think the main problem for myself is being unable to express any personality, sitting like a nodding fool and constantly hearing others using your name around you (there is no words for he or she in Korea, so when someones talking about you, your going to know)but having no idea as to why, but mostly I find myself feeling a great deal of culture shock. I am now pretty familiar with Korean traditions within a restaurant setting;

  • Do not eat until the eldest person at the table has begun eating.
  • Always give and receive drinks with two hands.
  • Never pour your own drinks.
  • Always accept soju etc from elders.
  • Do not put your rice bowl on top of your lid (we have been told only once this is rude?!)

...I'm sure theres more.

However, I feel on edge to adhere to all of the above whilst trying to remain consciously aware of everything I am doing that may/ may not offend others around me. When dining with Korean friends there is a greater understanding of the adaptation process for foreigners and if you were to do something deemed inappropriate it is usually overlooked or laughed at and explained. However, within a more formal school meal setting there seems to be no lenience towards foreigners. I once offended my vice-Principle by asking him to stop pouring the soju once the glass was half full, he put the bottle down and walked away. I was only drinking it to be polite initially and had no idea this would be a terrible thing to do.

The PE Teacher-  Its wonderful how although we are unable really speak to each other, I can still enjoy his company and  have realised he's a  funny guy! Ah I wish I could speak Korean!

My Co-Teacher

The correct way to give and receive Soju in Korea. That's the Vice Principle on the right.

The meal tonight was in a restaurant situated on Bukbu beach and included many dishes of various raw fish, one cooked fish, soup and of course rice. I don't mind the raw fish as much as I had thought, I mostly find it quite tasteless and chewy (this is not a wise thing to tell Koreans as they treasure the dish-Its like Turkey at Christmas for them!). There was just my Co-Teacher, PE Teacher and myself sitting together so I managed a few conversations, sampled the dishes and managed to drink only 2 shots of Soju (success!). I tried the Korean for small and it worked! Twice! However, one guy just chuckled and filled it to the top anyway. A few of the teachers, red faced, made there way to Norebang for some Karaoke after. I decided to head home, probably due to just the two Soju shots!

How to eat the Raw fish: Take a leaf in your hand.

Add some garlic, samjan sauce and chilli and stuff it in your mouth WHOLE.

Raw fish platter.

Seafood pancake- Pajon, Platter with Seaweed, spring onion and fermented fish-eaten together!

The King of Raw Fish- THIS stuff takes the title for Koreans!

Of course: Soju and Beer!

I hope this doesn't come across in anyway as negative towards Korea or the traditions (as mentioned I usually feel like the ignorant tourist intruding upon there lives). I respect the Confucianism system wholly and feel many other countries (esp UK) could benefit from aspects of the system (people did once get up on a bus and offer their seat to elders right!? So my mum tells me anyway). My experiences with culture shock here, are usually ones of awe or greatness!

Just the other day (at finding out the new water spray systems on the motor way are to prevent the spread of the flu- Yep, they spray every car/bus/truck driving through to Pohang with disinfectant) I told Paul:

"When this country stops surprising me, its time to leave!"

How interesting life is when its full of surprises!

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