Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Korean Food, Soju, and Random Hugs

More unexpected new experiences to write about (though I'll keep this one shorter than the others)! Let's just say that today made yesterday worth it.

The only difference in routine was that I took the bus to the school for the first time (after getting off the train). It was a bit confusing, and I'm still not sure when to get off. Besides that, the morning at school was fine--I mostly made some lesson plans for later in the week. It was pretty laid back. But then I got to have school lunch.

First there was an enormous serving of rice. A little kimchi. A bowl of seaweed soup. This cold beef/vegetable stir-fry that you put into this mu-sam, which is thinly sliced pickled radish used to wrap the food (like a really small, super thin, lime-green tortilla). And some strawberries. It was actually all very good. The rice was a bit much and filled me up quite a bit. I had a couple pieces of the kimchi, which wasn't bad--spicy. The seaweed soup sounds disgusting, but it's actually really good. I mostly had the broth, though. I liked the mu-sam and stir-fry quite a bit. Despite it basically being a cold vegetable wrap, it had a very sweet flavor. And the strawberries were fresh and delicious. It was all quite good, but there was so much of it that I barely ate half. And I'm pretty sure my co-teachers thought I hated it because I didn't eat a lot.

Then there was the afternoon classes. One was another second grade class, which worried me at first, but it was much better this time. Those kids are funny (even though I don't understand what they're saying). Just their actions are fun. And after that I had some older kids (I think they were 6th grade). This class was... OK. It was much more reserved than the younger kids. And the girls were much more behaved than the guys. They weren't as goofy or as fun to be around, but they were (at the same time) easier to handle. And they spoke a little English.

Anyway, the good stuff is still to come. I found out right before that last class that I had to go to this school dinner because I was new and it was a start-of-year new teachers dinner thing. My neighbor decided to cancel a doctor's appointment he had and go with me and a couple of our co-teachers so we wouldn't be alone (the only one of the English department not there was the original co-teacher that first showed me my apartment and took me to the hospital).

If you are unaware, Korea has a big drinking culture. I'll probably get more into this in a future video (along with some quirks that go along with it). But I was forewarned that I would be forced to drink tonight. So we eventually get to this restaurant and have to take off our shoes at this step before going into the main part of the place. Our school party is in these three little rooms at the side of the place with these long wooden tables in each room. And around the tables are these thin pads/pillows to sit on the floor with. So we join a table in the middle room as the food is already cooking (you cook your own food on this hot pad in the table--something else I'll probably go into in a video at a later time). There's a ton of food around, as well as different bottles.

One bottle I recognize--Soju. It's a strong yet cheap Korean alcohol. There's also what I learned was Korean Cider, which was very good. It's basically sprite with a tiny bit of ginger flavor. So my neighbor decides to teach me how to correctly accept and drink alcohol and lets me try to Soju before somebody else gets to be first.

It tastes like rubbing alcohol.

Fortunately, the flavor leaves your mouth pretty quickly. So we continue eating (it's Korean BBQ that's very good) when suddenly our principal shows up and pours me another shot of Soju, which I have to take. Oh how it burns. He goes away and we eat more and laugh and (at least us big white boys) try to shift around because our legs/feet are falling asleep from sitting on this hard wood floor.

Despite all of us being full, they talk me into trying a cold noodle soup... just for culture's sake. So they bring it out, and it's even stranger than it sounds. It's this black (or maybe a very dark purple), thin noodle that looks almost worm-like. These noodles are in an ice soup; it's a cold soup with chunks of ice, so it's almost like a shaved ice looking thing, but as soup. And there's also bits of cucumber and something else that I'm not sure. So I had a little bit and... I must say it wasn't bad. For ice soup, though, I did not expect it to be as spicy as it was. I could find myself getting used to it pretty easily.

And that's when the Vice Principal showed up. I wasn't sure who he was at first (it was explained to me later). Let's just say he was already quite red in the face. He pours me yet another shot of Soju, which one of my co-teachers tells me to drink. But then I discovered he wasn't ready for me to drink yet, so he pours me another. And I wait for a toast and shoot that down. To make this story shorter, he pours me at least 2 more after this before finally telling me I can refuse if I want.

During the whole time he's there (and he's there a good 15-20 minutes), he's telling me (which has to be translated for me) that I remind him of his daughter who has gone abroad herself, and he says I need to make friends soon because he fears I will become lonely. I also need to show pride in school and respect in its students because our school was the best school and our students are the best students (not that I wasn't doing those things--they were just open declarations).

And, yes, at one point he takes my hand, shakes it, then leans in and gives me a great, big hug. And it was just as awkward as it sounds. But everybody was laughing and having a good time, so I didn't mind.

Eventually it was time for everyone to leave, so we got up (and thank God that didn't happen 5-10 minutes earlier, or I'm not sure I would have been able to stand properly. I could barely sit there without dizziness). Another co-teacher gave us a ride home and... that was that.

It was a really easy, fun, and cultural day. And it reminded me of some of the positive reasons I came to Korea in the first place.


  1. I love it!!!!!!! :) only one thing left on Eric's bucket list for you!!!! Hahaha
    We are drooling over the descriptions of the food I just want you to know! It looks like we brought maka with us -___-
    Drink your soju with Hawaiian punch ;) thanks for keeping us posted!!!! And bet you sleep Extra well tonight!!!

  2. wow what a fun night....for someone who doesn't drink...it sounds like you held your own....hahahah so excited that you are immersing yourself in the culture..
    we all are enjoying your posts so much and just can't wait for the next one!

  3. Yep, I'm going to need pictures of the food ... and one of you drinking since I can't picture it!

    Glad to hear that you had a great day!


  4. Lovin' the updates. Keep them coming!