Monday, September 1, 2008

Day 1

We just got home from our first day at Dogye Elementary School. Two teachers picked us up at 8:00 - a 24 year old who is our "translator" (the only one at the school who speaks much of any English, highly broken though it is) and a woman who seems to be the matriarch of the school and has been teaching there longer than our translator has been alive.

After the (beautiful) 40 minute (sigh) drive to school, we were introduced to "Head Master", whom we met (very briefly) our first night here, drunk in the streets (him, not us, yet). After some chit-chat (really, gesticulation is more accurate) with him, #2 - the Vice Principal, and #3 - who we're calling "Head Teacher", but are not sure exactly what title to bestow upon him (they're very big on titles here, and very curious about the corresponding English) we were steered toward a gymnasium containing 400 Korean munchkins. "Introduce." Really? In gesture? Lots of ooh-ing and ah-ing, some words from Head Master, what appeared to be the national anthem (I don't need to cover my heart, right? Because that would be weird, right?), and several songs sung by the students and conducted by our translator, we were brought up to a microphone on stage. "Anyeong hasaeo. Hello. Good morning. My name is Michael. It's nice to meet you." I had them through good morning. The rest went right in one ear and out the other. A couple more songs, lots of talking from #3, and it's back to the teachers' room.

"Sit." Okay. Comfy couch. Ten minutes... twenty minutes... an hour... two... lunch time! "Come." Up two flights of stairs and into line, quickly: Rice, yes. Kimchi, ok. Green vegetable, yes. Fried fish, no. Corn, yes. Soup... maybe... huge chunk of pork shank, no! Whew, that was close. We were told not to leave any food on our plates at school lunches. I cleaned my plate. My coworkers did not. Thank God. That would be a lot of pressure on some crazy food day-in and day-out. We were told to eat quickly, that Koreans do and they don't like to wait around once they were done. I do eat fast. Really fast. I'm always the first done. I ate extra fast at this meal and came in second to last at the table (with Melanie last). I'll have to work on that. My stomach hurt after lunch, maybe because of the food, maybe because of the speed eating, maybe because all I did today was sit on a leather couch.

After lunch, back to the teachers' room. All morning, and all afternoon, we were with a new Korean teacher, Park Gong Ju. She had an electronic Korean-English dictionary and we had a Korean phrasebook. So we studied Korean and she English and we got to know each other surprisingly well. We made plans to go mountain climbing with her and her husband. Sweet. In retrospect, my biggest mistake last time I was in Korea (I taught for a year in an after school academy in Busan, a large city on the southern coast) was not making Korean friends. I did, but not until late in the year, which meant I didn't learn much about the culture or the area. Which was lame. I'm determined to right that this time around. So we're going mountain climbing with Park Gong Ju. That was the accomplishment of the day, and really almost all we did. We introduced ourselves to the student body, sat around for 3 hours, ate lunch (for 4 minutes), sat around for 2 hours, walked around the school with Park Gong Ju (who is also new), sat through a teachers' meeting (a real test to my ability to stay awake), and then went out to dinner with the school.

It seems that the first of each month they have a teachers' meeting and then go out for "bowling, eating, or hehehehe". It was baked fish the first night we got here, fried fish tonight. Good fish. And good fried pumpkin. And good lettuce wraps. Head Master tricked me into eating a very spicy chili, and we had many soju "gombae" - cheers. The matriarch drove us home, and it turns out she's pretty good with English. Not that she can complete a sentence or understand more than the most basic phrases spoken very slowly, but she can communicate, which makes her the second we've met at the school. We agreed that she would teach us Korean and we would teach her English at her apartment. Score.

We got home at 7:30, eleven and a half hours after we had left... a very long day for having done very little.


Alice said...

What a crazy and exciting adventure! The way they approach life seems so foreign (imagine that!).

I agree with you - not appropriate to cover your heart during their national anthem - I think that is only something you do when your own anthem is playing.

Im looking forward to hearing about the mountain climbing!

Andrew said...

Of course, I would have tried the pork shank and fried fish! can't wait to hear about day #2! Sounds like maybe they are not sure what to do with you? Maybe they don't have a plan, and you can suggest something??? 400 students sounds like a lot. How are classes broken up, or down? You actually make it sound like fun. Will they be driving you every day?