Climbing a Mountain, and then some

14 Nov 2008
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

So we had a half day at school yesterday.  I was pretty excited to go home and do nothing for a while, but around second period Ms Park told me that the teachers were going to climb a mountain that afternoon and I was invited to go along.  Invited meaning I was going along.  I was a little annoyed at the short notice, since I was dressed for school in tights, a skirt and inappropriate footwear, while all the other teachers who were going were dressed in jeans and sneakers.  I guess they were given more than a few hours notice of the trip. 

So at one o'clock I found myself on bus with about 30 teachers (there are about 50 at the school, so a little over half).  We pulled out promptly (or at least I assume it was promptly because we left at 1, although perhaps we were supposed to leave at 12:30, I don't know, no one tells me anything).  Soon after we pull out people start passing around the snacks: a bottle of water, some tangerines, dried squid and beer.  Dried squid is in fact one of my least favorite things on the planet, but I tried to it be sociable.  And I drank my dixie cup full of beer.  After about a half hour ride we pull off the highway and Miss Kim (I think maybe no one told me about the trip because Ms Park couldn't go, and I think she was worried about me going without her) informs me that we are stopping at a high school.  Although Miss Kim is an English teacher, she speaks practically no English, although I believe she can understand a decent amount (at least she is always translating what I say in class), so what we're doing at the high school (and where the mountain is) remain a mystery.  We meet the principal at this high school, and so there are some speeches amongst the two principals.   Then we walk to this big building which turns out to be a large auto-mechanics classroom, with lots of engines and cars and stuff.  So, I guess we were there to tour this pretty fancy technical high school.  We also clapped for the auto-mechanic teachers.  Then it was back on the bus and on to the mountain.

The mountains weren't too far from the high school and soon we were blissfully wandering amongst the fall colored leaves next to a peaceful brook, while vendors tried to sell us various strange foods.  And it became apparent that "hiking the mountain" was really "stroll along at the bottom of the mountain and take lots of pictures and maybe have a snack."  Since Ms Park didn't come with, I got to hang out with all the teachers under 30, as they frolicked from pretty tree to pretty tree taking pictures.  The group of teachers who came on this outing, as far as I could tell, was comprised of unmarried, young women, older women whose children were gone, and various men.

As we neared the end of the path (paved for our convenience), the teachers I was with spotted the older teachers (including the principal) sitting at a table drinking and having snacks.  At this point there seemed to be hesitation and an effort to turn around without being seen by this snacking group, but I fear there was no hope for them since they had me and no one was going to let me miss out on group bonding.  I felt a bit bad because I didn't want to repay their kindness in letting me hang out with them by dragging them to the table with the bosses, but what could I do? 

We found the principal, vice principal and various other teachers snacking on a salad and a quiche thing, with bowls of rice wine on the side.  Of all the things I had to drink on this outing of fun, the rice wine was the best.  There was a big discussion about my name, what the last part of it was, how to say it, then it was back on the trail to head back to the bus.

At this point, it's 4:30 and I think, "maybe it's time to go home." So I happily get on the bus and wait.  Miss Kim comes and says, "now we go to dinner."  Food is generally a good thing in my book, and I know both Jordan and Matthew have had very tasty meals with their teachers, so I was hopeful.  The large, obscene statue outside the restaurant, however, should have made me wary.  We walk into the restaurant and Miss Kim says, "Eel."  "Eel?" I say back, somewhat worried.  "Eel, do you like?"  Well, I've never had eel, I tell her.  Then she informs me that there is a small table where I can have meat instead.  Sighing to myself, I say, "no, I will eat the eel." She looks at me dubiously and sits down.  I think she was hoping to avoid the eel herself, but the principal was there and I was sure he would have been very disappointed if I didn't eat the eel.  So I ate the eel.  I suppose I can say that it wasn't terrible, I managed to eat a few pieces without the threat of gagging, so it's ranked above a few foods I've eaten.  You know it's bad when the vegetables start looking good. 

At dinner we also had blackberry wine.  I'm not sure wine is the right word though because it seemed to be quite a bit more potent that wine. We had little glasses, smaller than a shot glass even.  I tasted it and decided it would be better if I just ignored it and focused on eating the eel.  But then, someone wanted to display their desire to be my friend and shared their glass with me.  So, unless I don't want to be their friend, I have to take the glass and drink the wine.  Not too tasty, but better than eel in any case.  Then a few minutes later, someone else comes to be my friend.  So we go on like this.  Eventually Miss Kim and the other woman sitting near me intervene on my behalf and make them give me Coke instead.  However, my triumphant moment was when, after taking a shot of Cola and listening to a speech about how he hoped I would learn Korean customs because they are "beautiful," as he was making to leave, I offered him my empty glass.  "Ho ho!" everyone says, "Return!" And the man gladly takes my cup and I pour him some wine. 

After dinner, everyone wanders back to the bus, and I'm ready for a little snoozing on the bus.  However, apparently the party was just getting stared because the entire way back we were entertained with what I can only assume were jokes (everyone was laughing) and singing.  Various teachers took the microphone and sang songs to make help make the time pass as we drove back to Gunsan. 

Finally, we arrive back at 7pm and I bow goodbye to the principal and I'm given four cans of beer ("for your husband!") and I make my way home.  Not quite the mountain climbing trip I expected, but then, this is Korea.

Sounds like fun

I have little to add except that this is the Classic Korean Experience. You were lucky that you had a few hours' notice---most of my meals out involve my getting up to leave at the end of the day and Mrs. Kim saying, "Oh, we eat dinner with other teachers tonight." Remember: if you go anywhere or do anything with your co-worders outside of school, there will always be food involved. This is not hyperbole, it's just plain fact.

(You can be their friend without drinking the alcohol, just be sure that the coke/cider bottle never gets too far from you and hand it to them when they come around with the soju. The other teachers will act disappointed, but really it will go down in their books as another lovable foreigner eccentricity.)


Well hopefully if/when we go out again I won't have to eat eel.


Next time it'll be octopus, or maybe cuttlefish.

(I still haven't had eel, I'm sort of envious of you... of course, I think that being in the middle of the country I get far, far fewer meals involving seafood than you do.)

go Marisa! what a party animal!

Go Marisa! I am both envious and proud of you, being everyone's friend like that. I like these Korean outings - lots to eat and drink, and they even send you home with beer for your husband! I hope Jordan enjoyed it. Everything sounds great - the eel, plus everything else. I may have a change of calling any day now, and end up with you in Korea.

P.S. You're looking almost Korean already - I don't know if I'll even be able to pick you out of the crowd if we visit. :-)