School no. 2 and someone’s birthday

To recap: With about two hours’ of sleep the night before, and lingering jet lag, the inevitable happened on Tuesday morning: I overslept. Well, to be more specific, I slept straight through my alarm; I didn’t even remember hearing it ring. I awoke at 8:40am, precisely one hour after I was supposed to meet my second co-teacher outside my building to travel with her to school.

I cursed as I stumbled around my apartment, getting ready as quickly as I could. By 9:20 (I had to shower, ok) I was in a taxi on my way to the bus stop. In my flustered state I kept saying “inter-city bus terminal” when I really meant the inter-city bus stop. My conflicting directions were fortunately enough to make the driver question me, and I managed to explain where I wanted to go. He told me how to say the name of the stop in Korean, which proved to be invaluable later on.

On the bus with Mary the day before I’d been smart enough to ask her how to get to the second school. It was easy enough: there is only one bus that goes out on that road, I just had to stay on it for 10 minutes longer than if I were going to the MWF school. I got off at the right place, after double-checking with the driver, of course. The school was right across the road.

Inside, the time being after 10am now, I discovered my co-teacher (CT) and apologised profusely. “Jet lag” is not an easily translated term, but I think I managed. This CT is quite young and friendly, and so was understanding. The head English teacher (aka the only one) was less understanding. Not in a horrible way; she just seemed more confused about it. I apologised again and at length (although I felt I really wasn’t getting enough credit for having made it to the school by myself, using public transport, and I’d been in the country less than a week. I’m just saying).

The TT school is larger than the MWF school. I’m pretty sure there’s still only one class per grade, but they are much larger than the other school’s, and correspondingly louder. My system received quite a shock at the level of noise the head teacher tolerated in her classroom. It immediately became my life’s mission to get them to understand the concept of “inside voices”. I was also taken aback by how disrespectful they were – not directly to the teacher, but for example while the other kids were presenting role plays, they would sit and discuss theirs quite audibly, paying no attention to what was going on at the front of the class. I even went and stood by one such group, hoping my mere presence would make them shut up out of guilt, but they continued, impervious to it. Hm. But one class actually clapped when they saw me, which was nice.

The English classroom at the TT school. The poster blinds at the windows say such epic things as "I'm really appreciated" (meaning "I really appreciate it." Yeah).

Lunch was much the same as at the other school. You line up, take your metal chopsticks, spoon, and tray with two large bowl-shaped indentations and three smaller ones. You get given rice and soup, some kind of meat, and two cold banchan (side dishes). When you’re done you pile all the leftover food into the soup bowl (this grosses me out completely – I can’t even put a serviette into a wet glass without flinching, ok – but there’s really no way around it) and chuck it into the slop bucket. (Just one reason it’s good to eat lunch early.) Then you use a sterilised metal cup and have some water (weak tea at the MWF school) out of a huge urn. I tried it but it tasted funny so I don’t drink it anymore. The TT school also always gives me a small carton of milk, which of course I never drink. Fortunately the head-teacher has now told me what to do with it if I don’t want it, which is a great relief.

In the afternoon the TaLK teacher (Jamie, a Brit, who I’d met at the weekend) uses the English classroom, but there is a computer at the back where I can sit and work. On Tuesdays, though, another teacher uses the room for two hours so I’m relegated to the library (which still has IE6 – the horror). It’s not so bad though; at least I have a computer with internet access (this, I have realised, is essential for lesson planning).

Later that afternoon I caught the bus back to Jeju. It was full so I had to stand at the front. I couldn’t help smiling as the bus barrelled down the country road, with me clutching a pole for dear life, the sea stretching out to the left and cabbage fields all around. Was this really me?! A week before I’d been eating sushi in the sun and fretting about packing…

See what I mean? Fields everywhere!

The walk up from the bus stop (yes, it’s uphill) wasn’t so bad this time because I took a detour halfway, to meet Sylvia. We dined that night at a Chinese-Korean restaurant (which, I have subsequently heard, is Not the Thing To Do because they serve shark fin soup, which is harvested in an incredibly cruel way. Oh well, we did not know this at the time. Sorry, sharks) and it was AMAZING. The place was tiny, only about four or five tables, so we were waited on by the owner (I think) himself. He asked us what we wanted; I said “chicken chow mein?” in a hopeful sort of voice – that being the only Chinese dish I know, aside from dumplings and sweet and sour pork, of course. At first he had no idea what I was saying, then he suddenly repeated it in far more authentic Chinese pronunciation, and asked if I spoke Chinese. Er, no. Anyway, they didn’t have it. What can I say: my concept of Chinese food is based primarily on American sitcoms. Between the three of us we managed to settle on pork and chicken: but oh, what a sight when they arrived, wok-hot.

They were both deep-fried and crispy: the chicken quite spicy, but so delicious, and the pork swimming in a sea of lemon-honey, accompanied by butterfly-shaped carrot pieces (seriously) and some strange purple vegetable – we never quite figured out what it was. An excellent meal, and to top it off, he gave us a 2,000 won discount. Winning.

On Wednesday morning I was collected by one of the teachers from the MWF school. We met outside my apartment building (I was on time, having set about five alarms on my phone) but she asked me in future to walk to her place, about two blocks away. I agreed, of course. (This is an important point for later.) Our route to school took us inland, although there was still a view of the sea (it is an island, after all). I’m a little sad about the non-abundance of public transport (especially trains, as I have said before. I love trains) – I didn’t really come to Korea to sit in a car on a highway! But it really is more convenient than the bus, and there’s really not much traffic. This teacher is also the most careful driver I’ve been in a car with (and by this I mean she uses her indicator and checks before changing lanes. Believe me, that’s huge).

At school I met the literacy teacher (her English name is Jolly. Sue me, I can’t remember her Korean name at all and she told me to call her Jolly) who informed me that it was Science Day! and as such, there would be no class. I was pleased to be able to sit in my classroom, use the internet and make fun posters for my classroom. (Yes, I am a huge nerd.) Just before lunch I was called down to the gym to see the science fair in action. I sampled a traditional Korean cookie (sugar burnt over a bunsen burner. It tasted of burnt sugar and methylated spirits), blew soap bubbles (and got spat on by a kid, by accident) and tried to help with building model dinosaurs. Even though the instructions were in English, it was not a huge success: I can’t say I’ve ever built a model T-Rex before. Despite all this, I enjoyed myself.

Yeah, I'm creative like that. Also, their general knowledge is in serious need of improvement.

Lunch was not bad, again. There was a strange sausage-shaped doughy-looking thing on a stick which I assumed was a chipolata, but having never had one before, and particularly never having had one in Korea, I wasn’t sure of the protocol regarding how to eat one. I strategically left it till last, hoping someone would pick it up and eat it. (They serve them with tomato sauce, which I declined. I’ll try things I’ve never seen  before and then decide if I like them or not, but this is not necessary with T-sauce. I already know I don’t like it.) But no one did. There was one tense moment when one teacher picked hers up….but it was only to move it to one side so she could continue to enjoy her fresh chillies. Yes, fresh chillies. There was a huge bowl of them on the table and the teachers were dipping them in sauce and eating them whole. I am not making this up.

Eventually, after eating as much rice as I possibly could and moving kimchi all around my tray, the principal picked up his chipolata and started eating it. I was relieved to see one was not required to use chopsticks or anything. It was quite delicious, it turned out.

Later that afternoon, I sat at the back of the class while the TaLK lessons went on, trying to read the introduction in the teacher’s book for the grade 1 syllabus. I fell asleep, however, my head pillowed on my arm. I awoke suddenly about half an hour later to find two Korean faces staring down at me. “Where are you from?!” they said. I hastily tried to pull myself together and pretend I had not been sleeping, but merely thinking deeply. “I’m from South Africa,” I answered, and walked over to the globe to show them. I later found out that sleeping at school, while not tolerated everywhere, is pretty widely accepted. Some schools even have special sleeping rooms or naptimes! So there wasn’t too much to feel guilty about.

Sylvia met me at my apartment after 6pm and we drank coffee and chatted while we waited for Mike, the other EPIK teacher at her school, to arrive. It was Sylvia’s birthday – I bought her Laughing Cow cheese wedges as a present. Don’t judge me. Cheese is awesome. Mike and his girlfriend, both Canadian, arrived sometime after 7 and we headed out. We were going to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant but one of the group (known as “Cycling Jeff” – and he was wearing full cycling gear. Um. Yes.) was vegetarian so we ended up going to the soup place next door. It was delicious – a massive bowl full of thick creamy soup and green tea noodles. Sadly my lack of mad chopstick skillz prevented me from enjoying the noodles as much as I wanted to, but I did my best. “In Korea, it’s ok to slurp,” Mike’s girlfriend told me kindly, watching me struggle to ‘eat nicely’. “I know, but it’s just so gross!” I wailed. “Yeah, but once you’ve been here a while, you realise no one cares,” she answered. It’s true. People chew with their mouths open and talk while they’re eating too. Um. Ew. But I’m getting used to it.

After dinner we went to a nearby coffee shop (absolutely delightful. Mismatched sofas and armchairs, random pictures, a giant teapot…I should’ve taken pictures!) and four of the group played an incredibly complex game which looked to me like a card-version of Age of Empires. True story. Mike’s girlfriend, who is just one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, bought Sylvia a slice of chocolate cake and a tealight candle for her to blow out while we sang Happy Birthday.

Happy Korean birthday Sylvia!

Later that night I walked home with an American who lived in my building – she’d been in the country for seven months, working at a hagwon (after school academy) until the director of the hagwon absconded with a quarter of a million dollars of the parents’ money. Again: true story. So being out of a job and still waiting to be paid for March, she’d decided to call it quits and head home. I fully sympathised with her, but found it a little unfortunate that most of the people I’d met so far were leaving! But yes. It happens.

Tomorrow: I eat a sandwich for the first time in over a week and make a shocking discovery about my bank account…

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3 thoughts on “School no. 2 and someone’s birthday

  1. Foreshadowing: a non-subtle hook. Sneaky. Other than that, most interesting.

    With regards to your experiences of the cold thus far (I read three in one sitting, sue me): perhaps this is the reason the Far East produces ninjas, that they must be covered by dense black cloth and move more swiftly than the chilling wind.

    Aside: sleeping at work is something that should be prized and partaken-of whenever possible. You know you want to.

  2. How do you know what happens to you tomorrow?? Clearly the spicey food is more than just good for your metabolism! (I keed, I keed). But WOAH – eating peppers just sommer? Not for me! Sounds like fun :)

  3. Pingback: My happy Korean birthday « The Complainant in Asia

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