Friday, September 25, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #13: This is the End, Beautiful Friend by Georgina Selander

This is the End, Beautiful Friend by Georgina Selander

The time has come to wrap up my ‘Eat, Play, Teach’ series – and I figured the best way to do so was to round up some of the highs and lows of my time so far. I’ll also offer some friendly advice for future teachers and travellers to South Korea.

Driving in Cars with Koreans

I’ve heard of the stereotype, ‘Asians are the worst drivers’ – and, well, – at the risk of being insufferably politically incorrect – it’s not far off the mark.

On Thursdays one of my co-teachers gives me a ride to school. I’m lucky to have good relationships with all of my co-teachers. Unfortunately, the one in question frequently crosses the professional boundary. In the past, I’ve been asked, “whether I’m dating?”; “if I’d like to date [him]?” and even if I’d like to “join for a trip to his hometown.” All this with a wedding ring and a daughter sitting in the back seat. Haaaaaard pass.

In addition to the pervert-y asides, this particular teacher is a noisy eater. And so for the 25-minute journey I cringe to the open-mouth chomping of his breakfast. Apples. It’s always apples.

One morning, after buckling myself in and bracing against the aural buffet to my left (Koreans drive on the right side of the road) things escalated from tepid to, well, traumatic. Driving through the winding country roads, my co-teacher decided that a blind rise was an ideal time to overtake a sluggish delivery vehicle. As we rounded the corner, not only was a car fast approaching in the oncoming lane, but the van we were overtaking started swaying dangerously into us – ultimately clipping my teacher’s side mirror. He swore loudly and pulled onto the shoulder of the road. I couldn’t help gasping, “oh god!”

Dangerous encounters of the foreign kind.

Besides the obvious joys of riding with a native driver, there are also the pedestrian perks. Forget what you learnt in your driving test. Here, drivers seem to have the right of way; zebra crossings and ‘the little green man’ are suggestions at most.

Eat Your Kimchi (and your rice).

A typical school lunch
Forget Woolies salads. Forget avocados and unprocessed cheese. Forget a decent bottle of wine for 40 bucks. Vok it, just forget it all. You’ll be eating rice with every meal.

Adjusting to Korean food is the only thing that has made me faintly homesick here. It’s not that Korean food isn’t tasty – it’s just that it’s likely going to be completely foreign to anything you’ve tasted before. And when food is memory, culture, familiarity and comfort – it can be a teething problem.

Kimchi is a Korean staple, and is served at every meal. Although the fermented taste takes some adjustment, the dish has a variety of health benefits such as warding off diabetes, cancer and strengthening your immune system. Plus, it may be considered impolite not to try it – at least in the beginning.

My advice? Take one piece. Even if you don’t eat it. That way you won’t get asked, “You don’t like kimchi?” Another tactic is saying “It’s too spicy”. Even if you think otherwise, it’s a good excuse.

Cooking Shabu Shabu 
But hell, be open-minded about it. It’s the only way to figure out the dishes you actually like. Korea has some really soul-warming food – and often dishes are prepared with the health benefits in mind. Take 해장국 (pronounced hey jang guk) for example, a formidable hangover chaser, made from pork or beef bones boiled for several hours in a delicious stock flavoured with ginger and garlic. My other recommendations would be trying out some of the tasty 찌개 (stews – pronounced jigae) or 샤브샤브 (thinly slice meat / seafood and vegetables cooked at your table in a yummy broth – which is later used to cook noodles and then rice – pronounced shabu shabu). Lastly, Korean-style barbeque, called samgyeopsal (삼겹살) where you fill lettuce leaf wraps with grilled pork belly and other side dishes.

As a final note, avoid insulting Korean food – however strange it may seem to you. That’s offensive in any culture.

Next on my list of bizarre foods – live octopus! Nom nom nom. Cough.

Be Courteous – Especially to Your Elders

Korean culture is hierarchical. The older you are the more respect you are (or at least, should be) granted.

The way you address an older person differs to a younger one. Generally this means adding a ‘yo’ when you’re speaking to your senior – but also extends to general etiquette such as bowing (lower shows more respect) or the way you share a meal or a drink.

I recommend familiarizing yourself (or ideally, asking a Korean native) about these subtleties to avoid any embarrassment.

Make Friends. Even if They “Aren’t Your Type”.

When I arrived in Korea, I was fortunate enough to have a close friend living in a neighbouring city. This gave me easy access not only to social invitations, but also a guide through the proverbial dark waters on arrival. Because of this, I neglected to make strong bonds with people in my own city. This left me lonely on weeknights and on the weekends when I was home.

Making friends
I acknowledge that I’m a bit of a ‘people snob’. Possibly even a sapiosexual – someone attracted to intelligence over looks. (If you openly advertise that you “aren’t a reader” goodyeeeeeeee).

That being said, not every person you meet has to be intellectually / emotionally stimulating. There are times when just a bit of company will do.

Lower your expections

I expected to drop 10 kilos on a diet of soup and kimchi.
I gained weight.

I expected to forgo liquor for spiritual pursuits.
Soju. Enough said.

I expected a high(er) level of English proficiency.
Hearing ‘hello’ is an achievement.

You might be surprised, as I was, at how low the level of English is in Korean schools. Unfortunately the school system privileges reading, writing and grammar over listening, speaking and conversationalskills.

Classroom shenanigans
It’s been a constant battle – even seven months in – just to get some students to respond to “how are you?” So don’t be frustrated or disheartened if things aren’t up to standard. Be patient and find other avenues to stimulate yourself if you find your job wanting.

Be open-minded

Koreans may talk, eat, drink, dance – do everything – in a way that’s unusual to you. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just cultural difference.

You may be shocked at Korean men spitting in the streets, or burping after meals. They might be just as shocked if you blow your nose loudly in public or wear shirts that show your collarbone.

My students’ behaviour also came as a struggle; dealing with 25 – 30 teenage students, some of whom are sleeping, others who are doing their make-up, wasn’t something that I was accustomed to.

So, be open-minded. And most of all, be patient – with yourself and others.

This is the last blog of the ‘Eat, Play, Teach’ series. I’ll be starting up a new site in the near future – so keep an eye out if you enjoyed these entries!

No comments:

Post a Comment