Thursday, March 11, 2010

Social Fears and Fresh Water Eels

March 11, 2010

Well I just got home from my first night out with “the guys” and I think it went pretty well but let’s start from the beginning. Earlier in the day my co-teacher, Choi told me that at 4pm we would be playing volleyball with the other male teachers and then be going out to dinner. Now for the last week Choi has been having me practice volleyball with him in the gym after lunch. I found out that the teachers have a volleyball team that plays against other schools and they seem to take it fairly seriously The first time Choi and I played together he seemed excited and thought that I was pretty good. I haven’t played volleyball in a long time so I was surprised that I could be considered good by anyone. Choi told me that the principle and some of the other teachers were glad I was a man because they thought I could help their volleyball team. The previous teacher was a woman and apparently she was not very good at volleyball. Needless to say, while this was all somewhat funny I found myself beginning to feel the pressure of needing to perform well in volleyball in order to impress my co-workers. I couldn't talk to them so my actions are really all I have and they wouldn't need to speak English in order to see if I am any good at volleyball.

So at four that afternoon we went down to the gym and as I walked in the nets were already being put up and there were ten other guys there. Shortly after me another teacher showed up so we had an even six-on-six game. At first we just warmed up and banged the ball around so no harm no foul for bad shots but then it was time for the game to begin. There was lots of talking just like any normal sports game between friends but of course I had no idea what was being said. I was lined up next to the net on the left side and right across from me was the vice principle. The vice principle was a nice man but also one whom I was very careful to bow to and try to be clearly respectful. So I didn't really know what to do with him standing there across from me and it didn't take long to realize he was one of the best players on his team. But my highlight of the game came early within the first five points when someone set up the vice principle for a spike and I jumped up and blocked the ball right back into him. Now I'm not pretending I jumped amazingly high or anything like that really all that happened was I saw where he was going with the ball and I got there in time to block it. But all of the sudden my entire team shouted and cheered and everyone came over to give me a high five. Most of them couldn't speak English and of course I cannot speak Korean but in that moment it felt like I had just made five new friends. Now the rest of the game proceeded fairly normally. There were some differences I found in their style of volleyball compared to how I was taught to play. First the positions never rotated. Everyone stayed where they were. The only problem this created was the same three or four players on each team got most of the playing time. I was in a spot that did not get a lot of action so I spent most of the game watching. The other thing was that they counted points on every possession no matter who served. I was used to the idea that only the team serving could score. This didn't matter to me at all but it did make the game go faster.

We played a couple of games and then it was time for dinner. So I had made it through the first test fairly easily but now came the hard part for me, socializing. We all went to a restaurant and my co-teacher Choi asked me if I liked eel? Koreans call it Jangan (fresh water eel). I told him I had never had it and he said I was about to and he pointed at a tank near our table where there where live eels swimming around just waiting to be “chosen.” I tried not to let the idea of eel bother me and reminded myself that everything I had eaten so far had been good. I mean if people here like eating it there must be a reason. But before any food was brought to the table drinks were ordered. Large bottles of beer and another alcoholic drink called Soju were placed on the table and people began pouring drinks for one another. The drinks were of great concern to me, far more than the food. Was I allowed to refuse the drink without coming across as disrespectful? What do I tell them if they ask why I don't drink? I mean I don't really have a specific reason anymore I just don't drink. Part of me thought I should just go for it but then part of me thought that a Thursday night before another school day with a group of co-workers most of whom do not speak English might not be the best place to have my first real drinking experience since college. I had been told my co-teacher was a big drinker and I soon found that to be true. He poured me a glass of beer and everyone raised their glasses and started making toasts and touching their glasses together. I touched every ones' glasses and then took a very tiny sip of my beer and kind of like I thought it just did not taste good. I tried to fill my shot glass with water since it looked the Soju. The problem was that you weren't supposed to pour your own drink so anytime my glass was empty someone immediately went to fill it again but with Soju. I finally said no thank you to enough people that they realized I wasn't going to drink. They all seemed fine with it but they did want to know why. I didn't really come up with anything good to say so I tried to use my seizures as an excuse but that didn't really work because no one could understand what I was trying to say. The word seizure just sounded like scissors to them and when I tried to explain it as a brain problem they kind of got it but eventually both sides kind of gave up and just okay. One of the head teachers ordered a coke and brought it over to me and I instantly accepted that gift and they used the coke to fill my shot glass allowing me to participate in all the toasts. I was amazed at all the toasting that they did. During the night everyone kept switching seats so they could drink with a different person and raise a glass with them. I think I was the only person who never moved. And because of that fact I spent a good deal of the night away from Choi and with other teachers who spoke very little English.

Next came the food. The tables came with holes in the middle of them where a container of burning coals was placed and a grill was put on top of it. Right of the bat I liked this because it made the table very warm and you can never go wrong with warm. Waitresses then brought over multiple side dishes and various sauces. I tried most of the sauces and like them all. One in particular, which kind of looked like a marinara sauce. It was fairly spicy, almost like salsa. It was called Ssamjang. The main ingredient of the sauce was chili pepper paste and of course I like that. There was also a type of soy sauce mixed with another item, it was green and I think it was some type of mustard. Then before I knew it the waitresses began placing large pieces of eel on the grills right in front of us. The eels had been sliced open and skinned. If I had not been told what I was looking at to look at I would have just thought it was some type of fish. After it had cooked for a bit the waitress cut up the eel into smaller pieces and let them cook further. Then came the moment of truth, everyone began grabbing the cooked pieces of eel and dipping them in sauces or wrapping them in lettuce or whatever else they liked. My co-teacher had me take a piece and put it in some kind of leaf with some ginger, a pepper and the ssamjang and I ate it. I wasn't sure about the pepper but everything else I really liked. So I grabbed a second piece and did it again and before I knew it I was just going to town and trying eel with all sorts of different sauces and discovering numerous tastes I had never tasted before. It didn't take long for me to say that this was the best meal I had had since coming to Korea. The eel meat was just great and all the sauces and veggies were perfect. Then came the second dish. They took some kind of meat and began cooking. My co-teacher gave me a piece to eat. I asked what it was but he did not want to tell me so I just ate it. It was kind of chewy but it tasted just fine kind of like ham. I did not like it as much as the eel but it was good. Then Choi told me what it was. It was grilled pig intestines called Makchang. I just kind of laughed. The chewy part was the inside of the intestines. I don't know what I would have thought if Choi had told me that before I had eaten it but I bet he was right not to tell me. After having my first piece I went back for more. I also had some soup. Koreans really know how to make good soup. There hasn't been a soup yet that I haven't thought was great and they have soup with every meal.

The other teachers were very friendly and after Choi moved another guy named Kwon sat down and began trying to talk to me and interpreting others to me. One of the teachers whose family name (last name) was Kim really liked talking. He was probably the first one I noticed getting a little drunk though after I noticed it with him I began to see it in most of the people around me. He told me that his nickname was The Bear and then he began acting like a bear to make sure I understood. I laughed and shook my head yes to let him know I understood. Kwon then asked what my nickname was. I told him that I didn't have one. They all got quiet for a second. They were all clearly thinking about what my nickname should be and then suddenly Kim looked at me and said fairly clearly Jack Sparrow and began acting like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Now most of the Koreans I have introduced myself to call me Jack. Korean does not have a Z sound but I know they are talking to me and that is just fine. But when Kim called me Jack Sparrow I couldn't help but laugh in part because I had just watched Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl the night before for no particular reason. What are the odds? And Kim was very good at mimicking the gestures and body language of Jack Sparrow. So I guess I'm a pirate now. A few of the men were the teachers of the 5th and 6th graders I had been teaching English. They were laughing and telling me all the things that the kids were saying about me. How long my hair was, that I was left handed and I drank a lot during meals. (I feel like I'm drinking almost nothing, one glass a meal) But the most common thing was that the kids think I am very handsome. I asked them if that was just something girls said but they said no it was boys and girls. I was fairly certain that was the case because I had seen proof of that earlier in the day. All the kids have to keep a dialogue journal where they write short journal entries in English about something they did or saw that day and before lunch today one of the boys from class had done his journal early and wanted me to check it. He wrote about the cold weather (it snowed yesterday) and about meeting me. He described me as handsome. I guess I am really only writing this to bolster my own self-esteem and prove that it was good that I kept at least some of my hair. But should I even care that 11 and 12 year olds think I am handsome/pretty? (They say pretty too) Probably not but I do. Oh well.

(to be continued)

March 12, 2010

Around 8:30pm I spoke with Choi and asked if it would be okay if I went home. My apartment was within walking distance. He said that would be fine and I said good-bye to everyone. I thought I had stayed quite awhile and that most of them would begin leaving shortly. But today I spoke with Choi and found out they had hung out for many more hours and even gone to some other places. Choi even had a small hangover when he got to work as proof of his story. So that was my night last night. As always the men in the group were extremely nice to me but I admit that the night drags on a bit slowly when you cannot understand most of what is being said around you. Now tonight I am going to dinner again but this time with only the 5th and 6th grade teachers both men and women. Then Choi is going to take me to Costco so maybe I’ll be able to stock up on some soda there.

So it is official one week down fifty-one more to go.

1 comment:

  1. Wow.. I'm impressed with how much you like Korean food. I wish I liked it that much..

    I got in this morning and just got back from church with Jinah and her family.