Eat and Be Merry
*First off, I should apologize for not posting in nearly two weeks. I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been busy or because I temporarily lost use of my fingers, but this would just be a lie. The truth is I’ve been having a stint of writers block and thus have been spending more time outside of my apartment during the week as opposed to staying in to write. No worries though. The juices are flowing again. Enough said.
Among the perks of teaching in Korea, one of my favorites is the mandatory staff dinners. Unfortunately, I’m not lucky enough to have co-workers that regularly get plastered and spend weeknights slaughtering songs at the local noraebang, so I have to take whatever opportunities I can to cut loose with my fellow teachers.
In my situation, the staff dinners occur with no regularity and–as with everything else that goes on at the school–I’m almost always the last to find out about them, usually just minutes before I make my escape for the day.
Still, I look forward to them. Why?
For starters, we always eat Korean barbeque, but for me it might as well be crack because that shit has me hooked. Ever since my first run-in with it shortly after I arrived in Busan, I’ve been chasing the high. It doesn’t matter whether it’s bulgogi, samgyupsal, or kalbi; if I go one week without my fix, I damn near experience withdrawal symptoms. My fear is that without it, my co-teachers may have to pay a visit to my apartment after I don’t show up to work and they’ll find me laying naked on the floor in the fetal position shaking, fists tightly clenched around a pair of meat tongs and a clove of garlic. It’s that bad, people.
Additionally, I never have to pay. Not that I’m a cheap bastard, but a free meal is just that–free. There’s no point in shelling out several thousand won (or more if you’re a moron like myself and decide to grocery shop and cook your own food) when your school is more than happy to feed you at their expense.Well, i assume they are more than happy to pay. Usually when the meal is winding down I put a dumb look n my face and try to find a ride home as quickly as possible.
Even for it being free Korean barbeque though, staff dinners have a dangerous side to them as well, and as most of us already teaching in Korea know, that dangerous side is the amount of soju you consume, not by choice per se, but because you usually feel obligated to due to the fact that all of your co-workers (principal and vice principal included) are knocking the shit back as if they’d loose their Korean citizenship if they didn’t. Friends, if you never head any of the bullshit advice I spew on this blog, head this: never attempt to go shot-for-shot drinking soju with Koreans.
This is somewhat hard for me as I rarely get to interact with the men in my school because most of them are homeroom teachers that I don’t see on a normal basis. The staff dinners are really the only time I get to split off from my c0-teachers and other women I work with and shoot the shit with the males. It seems nothing brings them more joy than to plop down next to me with a bottle of soju looking to exchange a few simple words in english along with a few doses of the green bottled monster. Even the principals get in on the action.
During the last dinner, one of the homeroom teachers– we’ll call him Mr. Boastful–decides to come over to my table and share a few shots. Before doing so he announces to the other teachers that he feels like I am a global citizen and that he is quite fond of having me in the school. Naturally I cannot refuse his accompanying offer of soju, right? After all the man has just given me a compliment. Immediately after we toast and drink, the Vice Principal comes over, holds my hand and proceeds to give his own speech before pouring several more shots. Again am I supposed to tell him no? I’m sure it’s written somewhere in my contract that if the vice principal of your school holds your hand and gives a speech about you in Korean, you have to join him in a celebratory toast of Korea’s most potent adult beverage.
Eventually my co-teachers stand up to leave and tell me they can give me a ride home, when Mr. Boastful interjects, assuring me that help me fetch a cab later if I would opt to stay. Because I’m still a bit hungry and there’s still meat on the grill (and because the soju has me feeling jolly), I accept his offer.
Almost two hours and several soju bottles later we’re at a completely different restaurant eating clams and loudly professing that we are indeed brothers from different mothers.
Through broken Korean and English we discuss some of the reasons I decided to come to Korea and his reasons why Korea is a far better country than China or Japan–boisterous and a bit crude, but endearing nonetheless.
Before deciding to take off, we finish off one final bottle, and for whatever reason, I decide to pay for the meal which we barely ate. He was quite pleased and my gesture, and I was out 30,000 won–so much for the free meal.
We split a cab and the entire way home Mr. Boastful continuously reminds me of our new found fraternal connection, and that we should soon go mountain climbing as he is an expert.
The next morning I wake up earlier than usual, almost fully clothed, with breath that smells like kimchi sautéed in raw sewage.
Should I be embarrassed by all of this? Maybe, but I’ve since written it off as nothing more than enjoying a Korean cultural experience. Though next time I’ll probably fill my shot glass with water and spare myself the morning poo-poo breath.