Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Korea and so on and so forth

Hey everyone. I'm here at my desk at Yeongchun Middle School, and it's lunchtime. If you thought eating octopus was bad, you clearly have never had school cafeteria octopus.

I flew into Incheon International Airport two days ago and I was already weirded out back then. First off, it is apparently completely normal for Korean couples to dress alike. At least half the couples I saw were either wearing the same shirt or just a different color variation. When I asked my British recruiter about it, he replied, "Yeah, they do that shit here." I was just amazed that British people knew about the word "shit".

Also, because there's, like, several thousand people per square foot, personal space is almost nonexistant. My butt has been grabbed three times since I've been here. Bringing my grand total of butt grabbage up to four.

At the airport, I was having trouble with people running into me. Then I realized, oh yeah, they drive on the left side of the road here, so I should probably walk on that side to avoid getting hit. Later on, I discovered that no, no they do not drive on the left side of the road, and they just like to run into me. And grab my butt.

They have American food here, but it's weird American food. For instance, their version of spagetti has corn nuggets sprinkled on top. I almost ordered the crispy sweet potato pizza at Pizza Hut, but they were all out, so I settled for the bacon-pepperoni-mushroom-green pepper-corn-onion-horseradish combo with a side of mashed pumpkin and fried yams. I could not make this shit up if I tried.

My apartment is spacious and old and smelly. And I use the word "spacious" by American standards, so it's gigantic in Korea. I use the word "old" in Korean terms, which means it's very fucking old, and by "smelly" I mean it reeks of poop.

The apartment is alright though. In Korea, showers are taken not in a bathtub, but right there on the floor of the bathroom, in front of the sink and next to the toilet. I'm lucky enough to have not a bathtub per se, but a trough that I can stand in so the whole goddamn bathroom doesn't get wet. Seriously, I have no idea why they thought that was a good idea.

Another thing about my apartment is that it's out in the sticks. It's hard to describe rural Korea except to say that it looks like the inside of Steve's garage. There are still a lot of people, but no building looks newer than 100 years old, and not a single person looks "well off". It's apparently partly a farming community, so there's one post office, one store, one church, one school, twenty houses, and half a billion fields of stawberries and garlic surrounding it.

Speaking of garlic, the formality in Korea is beginning to perplex me. This entire time, I was assuming that my co-teacher would be kind enough to introduce me to everyone, which she didn't. Today, I just discovered that because I'm younger, I'm supposed to take the intiative and introduce myself to just about everyone except my students. Because my students are younger than me, I can treat them like total garbage.

Going back to formalities, in Korea, every business meeting I've attended has been around a short, long table with...I guess you could call them lounge chairs or armrests around them. We always have some sort of drink but it's never been water. It's either orange juice or plum tea or something like that. One time, my supervisor peed into a cup and handed it to me, because he is older than me, I had to drink it. I still don't know his name.

Food is getting wacky too. Having octopus for lunch in a school cafeteria is a new one for me. The supervisor of the education board for the county gave me a gift of -- oh, I don't know -- about eighty bulbs of black garlic. I specify with the "black" part, because this garlic is darker, has a stronger taste, and looks like grape jelly. Please, a mind experiment, if you will. Imagine yourself cracking open a nice bulb of garlic, only to discover a pitch black gelatinious goo inside that smells like the anus of a regular bulb of garlic. "Oh, thank you, sir. What a lovely gift."

The absolute most frightening thing about this country is the drivers. I have four syllables for you: holy sheyit. The roads here are like the wild fucking west. I mean it. There is absolutely zero regard for traffic signals, speed limits, white lines, yellow lines, the sanctity of life, etc., etc.. It's how you would drive if there were no traffic laws. I've seen -- very up close -- cars that attempted to pass another car by going in between two lanes of traffic or into the the oncoming lane. Nobody bothers with staying in their lane, and red lights are really just for show.

The students love me. And I don't mean that they appreciate my personality while overlooking my shortcomings. I mean, I am like a god to them, simply for being an American. Walking down the halls, students will get out of their desks to watch me. When I enter into a room, everyone cheers. I was walking to lunch this afternoon when a group of girls let out a shrill cry like I was Ringo fucking Starr. It is completely awesome and I think this is how I should be treated in all countries.

For my first class, all I really did was introduce myself and then the kids just let out a barrage of questions about everything about me, which was adorable, but there were some things that I didn't even have a good answer for. "Who's your favorite football player?" "Who is your favorite movie star?" "Which character are you in Maple Story?" "Have you heard of (insert obscure Korean reference here)?" In the end, I ended up showing them all a bar trick, because someone asked me if I knew magic. I forget which movie I stole it from, but you tell one person you can bet that you can drink two glasses before they can drink one, as long as you get a headstart and they can't touch your glass. You drink yours and turn it upside down over their glass. Hilarity ensues. Anyway, the kid I tried it on ended up pulling the glass up with his teeth and then drank his glass without the use of his hands. I had to give him the V on that one. Afterwards, my co-teacher said to me, "you really should not have drank that water." Guess who has a new pet tapeworm?

Speaking of water, another fun aspect of my apartment is the water, which is not clear. Being poor is fun, there's no getting around it. I have a water heater in my apartment, which (somehow) controls both the heat of the water and the heat of the floor. I don't know how that works. The heater is weird though, because I can only get hot water when I turn it on, and just hot water, so I have zero temperature control when I'm standing a showerhead or sink. The control panel for the water heater is in my bedroom, so I spent a good twenty minutes running back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom, naked, trying to figure out a good temperature to take a shower, and failing miserably at remembering temperature conversion rates.

Well, it's about 2:20 here and I have another class in five minutes, which is good, because I'm probably fresh out of amusing anecdotes for the time being.
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