Last night we had a "meeting" at the Samcheok County Office of Education. We went with a teacher and two administrators from our school, and when we got there discovered banners reading "EPIK Conference 2008 - September 17, 2008 (Wed) 16:00". I've never before been to a conference that was identified by its time!
After being brought on stage and given roses (our second presentation of flowers from government), we sat in a big hall for ninety minutes with all the other foreign teachers in the county (and multiple handlers for each) while our contracts were read in Korean. I suppose it's good that the administration was forced to get familiar with the contracts, but wow was that a long ninety minutes.
I suppose as a reward for sitting quietly, we were then all (100+ people) taken to a restaurant for bulgogi - the famous Korean beef dish. Melanie and I are vegetarian, or almost so, and this was the second time we've sat at a table with the administrators while they eat meat and we eat rice. It feels like they're starting to resent us for it, but I suppose it's more likely just alienation. After dinner I was thinking about my pre-vegetarian days and the few occasions when I ate with vegetarians. I remember not making any effort to understand where they were coming from. I remember feeling like they were "soft". And I definitely remember feeling like they were different - out-group, if you will. And so it is here, by refusing the school lunches and the group dinners, we've alienated ourselves and excluded ourselves from the group, to whatever additional extent is possible from the starting point of being, literally, an alien.
On the upside, a Korean teacher overheard our boss talking, in Korean, about us not eating meat, and recommended to us a vegetarian restaurant here in Samcheok. It's called Cheongralae, and they serve Ssambap - rice and vegetables and fish wrapped in lettuce. I guess it's a locally famous restaurant. He even left the dinner table to get us business cards for the place. Seven days till payday, and then we'll definitely check it out.
Coming soon: book reviews. I've been meaning to review (and compare and contrast) Jarod Diamond's Collapse, Derrick Jensen'sThe Culture of Make Believe and Kalle Lasn's Culture Jam - three books about what's wrong with our society and what we need to heal - for some time now. And I've just finished Jonathan Safran Foer's excellent novel Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, which definitely deserves a review. I had a dream last night that I was recommending books to my Aunt Ann - Derrick Jensen and Arundhati Roy. Perhaps I'm looking to push a certain perspective. See yesterday's post for a fleshing out of one aspect of what that perspective is.