Hire me Gongshow Gear!!!
In Korea, it’s normal for coworkers to spend an unnecessarily large amount of time together outside of work. Monthly (or more) bonding sessions are a requirement and can be anything from a dinner to an overnight hiking trip. Fortunately I have never been forced to sleep in a cabin with any of my coworkers though I have had a variety of different dining experiences.
When I initially arrived at Youngshin Elementary School, I was placed in an office full of women over 30 years old. We had snack time everyday around 3:00pm; at this time we would gather around a round table and talk Korean…correction…they would talk to each other in Korean while I practiced sleeping with my eyes open. Many times I thought I might smash my head on the table from sudden unexpected unconsciousness. Though these snack hours were monotonous and a minor waste of time, I can say that I did learn a couple things:
One – I love Korean pears…they taste like gloriously crunchy, grape flavoured apples.
Two – I FUCKING HATE Korean grapes. The process of eating one of these stupid fruits is to shove the larger-than-life grape into your mouth and proceed to de-skin and de-seed it with your tongue. If that doesn’t make a person look stupid enough, you have to then spit the fruit afterbirth into your hand and display it on a napkin for everyone to see. UGH!
Three – Korean women can talk EXTREMELY fast without any breaks in conversation for a VERY long time. (I’m sure women in general can do this, but it’s extra impressive when you can’t understand anything that’s being said)
Dinners weren’t much different from snack time except that they were longer and sometimes required going for coffee as well. Seriously…we spend all day together…
The office dynamic changed with the teacher change-up at the start of the new school year. Most of the new teachers were younger and spoke English, so it was nice to be able to communicate with people a little more. Snack time was more fun because an automatic bread maker materialized and produced awesome fresh bread every day. The bread was a great conversation topic…sometimes the teachers would get adventurous and put cranberries in it. Dinners were about the same when the older ladies were around but once they left us young birds alone, the strangest conversations would emerge. I won’t go too much into it, but I heard things like ‘What’s your cup size?’ ‘Let me hug you so I can know’ and ‘I want to date a young boy’ WHAT!?
A year later we had another complete office change up and these are the people that I’m currently working with. I have to say that BY FAR this is the most interesting year. We actually have MEN in our office. The women are mostly the same demure Korean beauties but the men vary a lot in personality. Let me tell give you the lowdown:
Coach: Volleyball coach, very short and middle aged. The older women fret about him needing to get married and make fun of him for keeping pictures of female celebrities in his wallet. What a man.
Mr Chatty: Grade 4 art teacher, father of the office. Every morning of our first week together as an office he would walk right up to my desk and say “HELLO”. But don’t get me wrong, he is a very sweet man who always tries to speak to me in English.
Shy Guy: Grade 1-4 music teacher, youngest male in the office. He 100% always tries to avoid me and just generally looks awkward in most situations. Once my co-worker (and pretty close friend) heard that I had broken up with my boyfriend she immediately said that Shy Guy would take care of me and proceeded to call him over to our desks. I’m pretty sure he almost died from embarrassment because as soon as she asked him to come over he said he had to go to the bathroom and ran out the of the office.
King Oppa: Grade 5 science teacher, older gentleman, but takes pleasure in the fact that Mr Chatty is older than him. Refuses to speak English to me and demands that I speak to him in Korean. Most talked about teacher…all will be explained if you keep reading…
Our FIRST dinner together as an office was at a raw fish place. So, we get to the restaurant and somehow I end up in the middle which is odd because I’m usually banished to the end of the table and my section is dubbed “the English zone.” This time I was sitting in front of the two older gentlemen and between two of my favorite co-workers so I knew this dinner was going to be great and as soon as the soju hit the table I knew it was going to be even better! We had never had any alcohol at a dinner before, but ‘no alcohol’ does not fly with King Oppa. The evening progressed with the raw fish and the soju shots and the chatting. I noticed that Mr. Chatty wasn’t drinking, so I asked him why he didn’t drink. He told me that he likes to talk a lot already and if he drinks he talks even more, so he decided to stop drinking. Good call Mr. Chatty. King Oppa, on the other hand, was trashed. He was screaming SARANGHAE (I love you) to each person around the table, policing everyone’s soju glasses and calling one of the teachers GOONG (her last name is NamGoong) every 5 seconds. He also tried to give me a Korean lesson, said he wanted to take my boyfriend (at the time) out for soju, and told me that I should call him Wang Oppa (basically means king boyfriend). King Oppa was on FIRE! He was a glorious fucked up unicorn beacon of soju. At first, everyone was a little awkwarded out by his temporary psychosis, but eventually they started giving it right back to him….until he called the new fresh-out-of-university teacher a bastard for refusing to take a shot with him. HAHA! Animal. Shortly after this we ended our most amazing teacher dinner yet and went to our respective homes.
There is only one other occasion that I can tell you about concerning teacher dinners; this was our second dinner as an office. We went to a place called ‘Ashley Buffet’ and this place is exactly what you would expect from a western style buffet. This restaurant is a chain in Seoul and some of the locations have all-you-can-drink wine…but…this one didn’t and as you can guess…this did not fly with King Oppa. This man actually left the restaurant to buy a bottle of soju and (not so slyly) poured it into his water glass. This animal actually drank the WHOLE bottle himself within 30 minutes. To be fair, he did offer me some. What a gentleman. Once the dinner was finished I went home, but some teachers, including King Oppa, went for coffee afterwards. I was informed that King Oppa made another teacher bring him some MORE soju camouflaged in a water bottle so that he could drink in the cafe. Crafty man.
So far, this year has been the most eventful year for teacher dinners and I’m sure that it’s going to get even better. King Oppa and I are on the volleyball team together, which means MORE dinner opportunities with even MOOOORE alcohol. Let’s see how it goes…
Rice cakes and I are not friends.
A year and a half ago I arrived in Korea, and shortly thereafter I was very aware of what a rice cake was. I would eye the many varieties of rice cake with curiosity when I saw them all around me. I tried one because one cannot just come to Korea and NOT have a rice cake shoved down their throat, but I wasn’t a huge fan. At that point, things got weird. The rice cakes knew. They knew that I didn’t like them and were adamant that I should. I couldn’t get away. They would materialize on my desk every time a teacher got married…or their kids got married….or they had a baby….or their baby passed 100 days…or on special holidays….or when a new teacher arrived at the school…OR WHEN A NEW TEACHER GOT THEIR FIRST PAYCHECK!!!
Why not just refuse these invasive squares of goo, you ask? I would not dare refuse rice cakes…the Koreans would likely ask some wide-eyed questions and maybe nod politely, but in their heads they would be thinking: (a la Gandalf and the Balrog) YOU SHALL NOT PASS!
Anyway, after a short time I discovered a genius method for getting rid of these ever appearing rice cakes. I deposited them on my neighbor’s doorstep like tasteless, chewy, sometimes colorful abandoned babies. This will continue to be my plan until it gets awkward…I can only imagine this happening if my (maybe) unsuspecting neighbors catch me in the act. I would prefer to be an anonymous unsolicited rice cake peddler.
After a rocky relationship, rice cakes and I have come to a neutral stand still. I have realized and accepted the fact that until I get on a plane back to Canada, I will not be able to avoid the their smushy claws and I think they have realized that they will never have a place in my heart…or my mouth.
Sometimes they still like to taunt me though…this appeared on my desk last week…
Squats Squats Squats Squats SquatsSquats Squats Squats Squats SquatsSquats Squats Squats Squats SquatsSquats ALL YOU FAAAATTIES
Flat butt in my pants and I’m ready for some squats.
The fat goes away every time I do them squats.
Boys eyes on my ass every time I drop and squat.
So butts to the ground everybody let’s do SQUATS!
…The things that come to my mind sometimes…
I was out one lovely evening in Seoul having some makkeoli with some good people and I started feeling a little ill. It was time to go anyway, so we all made our way home. Once I got home I thought I would just go to bed and sleep off my stomach ache. The stomach ache got worse and in a couple of hours it became full blown cray. CRAY I tell you! It was so crazy that I couldn’t walk the 3 short blocks to the hospital without ralfing on all fours a couple times. Thankfully my boyfriend was there to catch my awkward disgusting body when it decided not to cooperate.
Once we got to the hospital and into the emergency room my experience was unlike any other hospital visit. The room was empty except for some hospital staff and I was seen immediately. That is definitely not what it’s like at home in Canada. That part was pretty good, but it definitely got worse. I assumed that I would have to take some tests, but I certainly wasn’t ready for a needle the length of a football filed digging around in my wrist. No, it wasn’t just an under the skin needle, the needle literally went vertically into my wrist. I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone hold your arm really tight for fun so your fingers move involuntarily (try it!), but my experience with the needle was something like that…I could feel it all over my arm. Anyway, back to the story: a couple tests later the doctor discovered that I had pancreatitis. He was asking me questions to try and figure out what the cause was. There are 2 major causes of pancreatitis; one is alcohol, the second is gallstones. Being a teacher in Seoul, of course the doctor initially thought that it was alcohol. He actually had me convinced…it was the day after a big night out with one of my friends who had just arrived in Seoul and…well…we all had a lot to drink. I, of course, denied denied denied so as not to look like a 24 year old being hospitalized for an excessive drinking problem. Fortunately (?), the tests DID come back with some concrete proof that the pancreatitis was actually caused by gallstones. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it Mr. Faithlessdoctorman!
You would be right if you assumed that the doctors/nurses had been speaking in Korean the whole time. Luckily, my boyfriend is Korean and was able to translate for me. Sometimes he gets tired with translating and I’m not always sure I’m getting the full story, so naturally, being that my health was at risk, I was more annoying than usual with the clarifying questions. I might also mention that he has a sick sense of humour which might help you understand why I thought he was joking when he told me the doctor said I had to stay in the hospital for a couple weeks. Here is what our conversation looked like:
Boyfriend: So, he says you have to stay here for a couple weeks.
Me: Um, right. What did he actually say?
Boyfriend: He said you should stay here.
Me: It’s not fair for you to use your Korean skills against me! If I could speak Korean I would KNOW he’s not telling me STAY HERE!! I’m sick dammit! Tell me what he actually said you giant butthole!
Boyfriend: Justine, he said you’re not allowed to eat or drink anything including water for a week. Do you think you can do that at home?
That was some of the worst news I’ve heard in my life. Before then, I had never stayed even one night in a hospital and I certainly didn’t want a Korean hospital to be my first, but what choice did I have? I will admit that I did think about it. I actually talked about going home out loud as if it were a choice. I eventually decided that I would probably need to stay after continually bullying my boyfriend to re-water the small piece of gauze the nurse gave me for my thirst.
After waiting a little while in emerge we started prepping ourselves for my hospital stay. As I am Canadian and am used to publicly funded healthcare, I was a little afraid of what the bill might be at the end of the ordeal, so I chose to stay in a room with 5 other people. Mistake. Shell out the extra hundred bucks a night for a private room if you ever get caught in a Korean hospital. I promise you won’t regret it.
The first and most of the second day in the hospital was spent sleeping and feeling bad for myself. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink ANTHING. This might not seem like a big deal but believe me, it’s slow torture. Every time I went to the bathroom I was pissed at myself because my body needed to pee, but my mouth never got the pleasure of tasting a liquid and at one point I seriously considered wedging my head under the hand washing tap just to get a drink.
While I was in the hospital I was in contact with my mom mostly over text. She works in the health care industry at a children’s hospital, so she was talking to all of her doctor friends and badgering me to ask the Korean doctors about this and that. Eventually she must have thrown her hands up in the air and said to herself: “That’s it! I don’t know what my daughter has done to herself! I must talk to the doctors myself!” I figure this must have happened because she ended one of our text conversations like this: “Ok honey, see you tomorrow!” I replied with: “Haha, ok mom!” Little did I know, she had actually bought herself a plane ticket and was on her way to my small curtained-off share of a 6 person hospital room in Seoul.
The day that my mom arrived was the day that I was allowed to start eating again…and by eating I mean sipping something like kimchi runoff and choking down liquid rice with a tasty little yogurt water to finish. I was definitely excited that I could eat again, but eating became old after the second meal of mush. Fortunately I had my mom there to entertain me. She came to the hospital every day around 8:00am and set up camp with her IPad on the little mattress that rolled out from under my bed which took up all of the standing room in my curtain-icle. She made the doctors and nurses sufficiently uncomfortable by asking them complicated English medical questions, demanding to see my lab tests, and feeding them maple leaf shaped chocolates.
Around the middle of my hospital stay I started to become agitated by my surroundings. I was noticing that all the ladies in my room seemed to be friends by the way that they were talking loudly and laughing at each other. One lady actually started looking like an orangutan to me due to her loud hooting, her hoarding the TV remote, and her short maroon colored perm. I noticed that the TV, which usually featured a variety of wailing older gentlemen, was turned on around 5:00am and left on all day. Nap time was somewhere around noon which, after a couple of days of early TV wailing, was when I liked to tell my visitors to come. 😀
Eventually after a lot of begging and reassuring the doctor I could handle it, I progressed to stage two of my eating phase. This was a big step up from mush town. I was able to eat watery rice, usually with some kind of bland meat…one day they actually crammed a full fish into a bowl for my mealtime enjoyment. I was even getting pieces of kimchi in my kimchi water! How excellent. After the excitement of eating real food wore off I started to get restless; there is only so much Dexter one can watch. I wanted out and I made the doctor aware of this every time he came near my bed. My mom was supportive of my departure in that she had me convinced I was going to get bed sores from sleeping on a bed whose surface was comparable to plywood. Nonetheless, the doctor told me I would have to stay until I had more tests and could eat stage three food.
By the end of my hospital stay the whole staff on my floor knew me. They didn’t really have a choice what with my mother wandering around the hallways and my friends popping by for nail polish/Project Runway parties at all hours. When my friends came by to visit one day, they asked the nurses if I could have some hot chocolate; the nurses were horrified by my friends’ poor judgement, but called me “Our Justine” in Korean. Felt nice…but also like I had been there for too long. Finally on day six, after eating a proper Korean meal, the doctors hesitantly released me from my hospital prison.
I have to say that my experience in a Korean hospital wasn’t that bad. The bed was a pretty hard and the 5 other people in my room were pretty annoying, but that would be annoying in any country. While my time in the hospital was certainly tolerable, I do not recommend spending any length of time in any hospital unless it’s absolutely necessary, but hey, that’s just me.
*Note* Cornell is a very nice AirAsia employee that Lauren and I met at the Jakarta airport.
My and Miss Lauren’s time in Jakarta was so great! Warm weather, incredible food, instant celebrity status, and people who own exotic (possibly endangered…) pets. The local people were great and so friendly – I can’t tell you how many times I heard a holler or a “HAI! HOW YOU!” So many times actually, that by the middle of the week, (much to the amusement of Miss Lauren), I was answering these calls with a “CACAAAWWW!” People were so amused by us that they would just walk up and ask to take a picture with us; once we even got a round of applause while we were walking through a big group of school children! Jakarta can definitely be described as a concrete jungle, though there are small patches of paradise throughout. One of these places was the pool with the skeleton of a swim up bar at our residence, at which we sufficiently charred our pearly white skin. Another small paradise was Monas – a freedom monument near the middle of Jakarta where we met a scary looking, toothless old Indonesian man who claimed he was a tour guide and wanted to show us around and take us to Chinatown. We accepted. As for the exotic pet owner – she wanted an owl, but settled on a small nocturnal monkey. WHAT?
Cornell, I do have to confess to you that our time in Indonesia would not have ended in such an agreeable way if you hadn’t helped us get home. As you know we had some trouble on our way into Indonesia too. The lack of residence card and itinerary, the flight we almost missed because we didn’t realize it was last call, and the source of 2 rather large connection problems– the unexpected (yet apparently documented) airport change in Kuala Lumpur. You see, we thought we were bargain geniuses because we booked 2 different tickets, one with China Eastern and one with AirAsia, for a much cheaper price. Airport change = NOT. WORTH. IT. Let me take you back to my and Miss Lauren’s conversation from when we were booking our tickets:
Me: “Let’s just take the 8:30pm flight. It gets to KUL at 11:30pm and we don’t depart on our next flight until 1:55am. We’ll be fine.”
Lauren: “Are you sure? AirAsia is always late, plus it’s the last flight of the day…”
Me: “Yeah, I’m basically the boss of air travel because I worked for an airline for a year and a couple months so, I think we should just do it.”
Cornell, I didn’t see an entire airport change coming…but fortunately we had you to take care of us. Thank you for not thinking I’m psycho for chasing you across the check-in area, thank you for being honest and telling us that the AirAsia flight was late and we might actually not make it, thank you for trying to get us on an earlier AirAsia flight even though we were too cheap to pay for it, thank you for giving us front row seats for first-off advantage regardless of the AirAsia no seat reservation rule, thank you for calling China Eastern to check if maybe their flight was late too (it wasn’t), and thank you for being so damn nice to us, the idiots who booked a short connection with an airport change.
While I’m thanking you, Cornell, I am reminded that I should thank a few other people for their help along our journey home too…
To the other AirAsia employees in Jakarta: Thank you for being so utterly unhelpful, without you, we never would have found Cornell.
To the taxi stand boys in Kuala Lumpur: Thank you for letting us go in front of the other 20 people in line and literally stopping a man from putting his suitcase in the trunk of a taxi so that we could take it to the other airport to catch our next flight in time.
To the only male flight attendant on our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai: Thank you for giggling and being awkward throughout your entire safety demonstration; we’re happy to know that SOMEONE can make a joke about plane crashes.
To the flight attendant serving our meals in the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai: Thank you for sneezing on our open buns on THIS flight – we were already sick, so there’s really no better time you could have chosen.
To the transfer service people in Shanghai: Thank you for going back to our plane to retrieve Miss Lauren’s passport after noticing her sitting on the ground with her carry-on bags gutted.
All in all, I have to say that almost everyone we met on our trip was really great and we were really lucky to have had the experiences that we did. Frankly, we were lucky to have even made it there in the first place. So, once again, thank you Cornell for everything that you did for us. Miss Lauren and I hope that AirAsia recognizes how great of an employee they have in you.
Miss Justine and Miss Lauren
This week is the week of the Lunar New Year – yet another excuse for us teachers to get out and party hard in Hongdae (see Dictionary) or to get out of Seoul and experience some other kind of crazy. In my sad sad case, the Lunar New Year involved staying right here in the rather large bubble that is Seoul. A fast approaching trip to Jakarta, Indonesia means a girl’s gotta save, ya know?
Before I tell you about my weekend let me give you the Wikipedia low down on what the Lunar New Year actually is. Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year is the first day of the first month on the Chinese lunisolar calendar. During this holiday Chinese and culturally Chinese influenced families get together and eat and celebrate by lighting fireworks and giving each other money in red envelopes. Families also thoroughly clean their houses to get rid of bad luck and make way for good fortune. Koreans celebrate this holiday with their families too….which is why there is recently an abundance of SPAM (yes, canned ham) gift sets in the stores.
My Lunar New Year weekend began with covering myself in super glue as I tried to be productive and fix my hair band. I now have 3 black dots on my legs that won’t come off without my skin. Ha.
But actually, I had a great first day! One of my lovely girlfriends came over for a relaxing evening in. We baked some cookies and did our nails after hours of creeping instagram for nail ideas while a cheesy lady movie played in the background. We covered the fireworks part (delicious cookie fireworks in our mouths) and the maybe even the good luck part (cleanse the old nails and in with the new…..lucky ones?….).
Day 2 brought some disappointment but also some family fun. The plan was to journey over to Chuncheon and have dinner there. The Chuncheon neighbourhood is famous for Dakgalbi which is kind of like a spicy chicken stir fry with potatoes, cabbage, rice cakes, etc. We wanted to try this famously delicious dish, but the plan just didn’t work out. Instead my cousin and I hung out in Gangnam eating my favorite food: Shabu Shabu. The restaurant looked like it was in a cave, check this out…
So, I think I covered most of the Lunar New Year traditions…however unconventionally. I can’t say that anyone handed me an envelope full of money and any money I might have saved went to nail polish and skin-brightening anti-wrinkle blanc pearl caviar creams at Skin Food. *Sigh*
Anyway, even though I didn’t do anything crazy, I have to say I had a great weekend full of yummy food and good company. More company to come as my auntie and her husband arrive into Seoul in a matter of hours followed by my cousin and her girlfriend a few days later! What shenanigans will ensue then, I wonder!