The principal played volleyball with us yesterday. The atmosphere he brought to the court was a strange one – not knowing whether to laugh or cry (secretly of course) whenever the ball ricocheted off him far, far away from where it should have gone was mixed with a definite sense of impending disaster. This air of inevitability stemmed from a few incidents – one being in the warm-up when every hit I made to him sailed a good few feet over his head; another being when the only female teacher playing slammed the ball in his direction so that he backpedaled out of the way quickly enough that he fell flat on his bum. The disaster came when a shot from the opposition deflected off the net – the principal and I both went for the same ball, he stuck out an arm and deflected it again, I reacted by kicking the ball at 100mph into his nose. Fortunately he took it quite well – the ball found its way back over the net via his nose and then another teammate, but he picked himself to count the touches we made – his hand, hana, my foot, dul, his nose, set, teammate, net – and then award the point to the other team (a team can touch the ball a maximum of three times). I don’t think he was too angry, because after the game he invited me to a ‘men’s club’ dinner after school.
It turned out that this men’s club was a ‘barbecue party’ hosted by the head of the Ministry of Education or by the Parent Teacher Association founder or by a generous school financier or by the owner of a big stationery shop, I couldn’t work out which. He could’ve been all four. I think he was at least the latter, as it was held on top of a multi-storey stationery-lover’s heaven. I don’t know if I was at the right place, because the principal wasn’t there but women were, but there were teachers I recognised and free champagne so I didn’t waste too much time wondering. I was introduced, repeatedly, to people I’m almost certain I’ll never meet again, but the food was nice enough to bear it. Finally the important people started to leave so I could enjoy my barbecued abalone/eel/clams and chat to Sam in peace. He told me a lot about Korean drinking traditions: about how at 18 a boy and his father would hold a private ceremony at home to celebrate his reaching the legal drinking the age. The boy would sit there, back perfectly straight and hands on lap (this was emphasised several times) whilst the father spoke to him at length about the responsibility he now had (‘blah blah blah’). He would then hold out his glass in two hands, while the father poured him his soju. The soju would be set down on the table to stare at the boy, taunting him, while the father spoke at length again (‘blah blah blah’). Finally the boy would be allowed one sip – he would take the glass in two hands again, turn away from his father and then sip just enough soju to taste. The mood would then lighten and the two would chat, the boy finishing his drink slowly and in several sips. Sam’s father passed away while he was at high school, so he only learned how to drink with his friends, and while most others sip their soju slowly, he drains his glass every time. This results in a lot of consumption – especially in Korea where every time you want to have even just a mouthful of your drink, the whole table raises their glass and drinks too.
Sam, Charles and I moved on to another bar (I didn’t really have much choice) where they chatted in broken English and Korean to me about how the three of us were ‘tigers’ that must stick together in the face of the stress that women bring. I managed to escape and get an early enough night, but Sam was wearing the same clothes at school this morning and looked… pale. At school I seem to have split the whole teaching contingent (not down the middle – according to one teacher it’s Charles and the principal against everyone else) regarding the issue of students being given my mobile number to ring at any time. On the way to my after-school lesson Yuni kept apologising for Charles’ behaviour and advising me that I should tell him I’d lost my phone. He hadn’t really done anything, I thought, and it’s understandable he wants to implement the principal’s ideas, given he wants to be a principal himself one day, but there was no way I was going to allow students to ring me when I was at home. I met him afterwards and told him this, but there’s something suspicious about his manner that Elizabeth pointed out weeks ago – and I’m starting to agree – and I really wouldn’t be surprised if kids starting phoning me.
After-school classes are getting easier and better in general. There are four new kids, making 13 in total now. I’ve heard some pretty funny stories of students giving themselves English names like Pineapple, Jelly, Donut, Legend etc., but sometimes my kids’ more traditional names make me laugh the most. I have a silent giggle to myself when I have to ask Arthur to sit down or Diane to stop talking. I’m writing this in a break between cutting out thousands of household objects – tomorrow we’re going to be making our own houses and sticking various toys, appliances and pieces of furniture into them, because Friday’s fun day! It’s amazing how quickly it comes round now, although Thursdays and Fridays with grade 6 seem to drag on and on. My co-teacher seems really reluctant to deviate from the school textbook and every time I suggest an idea for an activity, game, song, way of keeping them quiet/or interested, she listens really intently and then doesn’t reply. I spend lots of the lessons trying to hide my true feelings about the content of the book from the kids – if they ever find out how little I care that ‘Hamin’ wants some more songpyeon or that some other ridiculous Korean Office of Education brainchild can use chopsticks well it’ll be even harder than it is now to get them motivated.
I’ll leave you with some photos from last weekend – in some ways one of the best I’ve had so far but in others one of the worst. On Saturday Eliz and I went back to Ulsan Grand Park, now that we both have bikes. It’s one of the greatest parks to explore in, ever. There are so many windy little roads that lead nowhere, and so much to see. On Sunday we travelled to Jinju, roughly halfway across the country, to see the lantern festival that takes place there. We were advised that the coach trip takes 2 hours, and considering how complicated it looked to book a hostel, we decided to return on the same night. Our coach times were 1pm and 9pm, giving us 6 hours if everything ran smoothly. It didn’t. We didn’t get there until 4.30pm, and despite setting off a few minutes before 9, it was gone half 1 in the morning before we got home. I won’t go into details, but it was hell on earth. Luckily the Monday was National Foundation Day and a day off work (which is probably why this weekend has come around so quickly). I’ll just put a few up from the park, as I’m gonna do a post just on the lantern festival at some stage. The rest will be on Facebook one day – for those that don’t have it, if you want to see more just leave me a comment!
Eliz on part of the bike track I mentioned a while ago.
A shot of the park.
A fighter jet outside the Korean War memorial.
The memorial itself.
Statues of soldiers on the memorial.
The greatest mega-trampoline-moon-floor ever.
Some crazy woman dancing and singing on stage to an adoring audience (out of shot). I’ve got a video but you don’t wanna see it.
Some kind of mummified tree.
Lake of lillies.
We met some hippos.
That’s all for now! See you next time!