Thursday, 10 September 2009

Welcoming Dinner with Andeok Teachers

You and I are partners. No, no. Closer. We are companions?


I had just arrived back to Andeok on the bus from Hyeonseo School, and I had mentally prepared myself for what was about to come.

The Andeok teachers had prepared a welcoming party for me and the new principal of the school (principals have to change schools every few years and usually don’t have a choice in the matter), and as Young-hee (my Andeok co-teacher) put it bluntly, “There will be a lot of soju involved…for you.”

With those words, I waited. I sat outside in the courtyard of the school, admiring the flourishing green canopy above me, and striking up conversations about the latest breaking news in Andeok.

Ten minutes later, Young-hee briskly walked out of the school’s glass doors and motioned me to follow after her.

“Ready?” She called back.

“Uh…huh…” I shakily replied.

We drove about thirty seconds (the restaurant was in Andeok) and we were there. Stepping onto the familiar wood-patterned mat, glued to the ground, both Young-hee and I entered the largest room, and greeted the teachers who had already arrived. On the left side of the room, I saw him. Normally, I saw and respected the principal like a retired military training officer (which he actually was), but there he was, on my left, sitting as humbly as any monk would. His perfect, impeccably-pressed suit was exchanged for a windbreaker and casual pants.

Young-hee and I were about to sit down with the rest of the ladies, when we heard the principal speak (in Korean, of course).

“Na teacher. Have her sit beside me,” requested the principal.

I had no choice but to sit beside the Alpha One. I actually had no problem doing it, but as I meekly sat down, I could see all of the female teachers’ eyes on me.

Young-hee sat down beside me. “I’m not letting you go through this alone,” she said.

I nodded. I really didn’t have a problem with what should have been a terrifying experience (according to the female teachers).

So, the evening began. The rainbow of side dishes came out first, along with many, many bottles of soju and beer…(I wish I had had more to eat for lunch). As soon as I put the first piece of mushroom in my mouth, a shot glass slowly inched its way towards me. The principal looked at me with eyes that belonged to a newfound friend, and he merrily said, “You and I are partners. No, no. Closer. We are companions? You. Me. New. We have connection.”

“Yes. Yes we do,” I said with a smile. Now I was best friends with the principal. He slowly poured me the colourless liquid of death, while I graciously accepted with two hands on my glass. I wanted to slowly sip on my drink (like most ladies do), so I put it down on the crowded table and picked up the green bottle of soju to pour him a shot as well. He grabbed it from me.

“No, no, no.” he said. “You have to finish your soju first. Then, pour me a drink in the same shot glass,” he instructed.


So I embraced all of the drinking skills I had learned in Montreal, opened my gullet, and tried not to choke. I managed to smile as the soju was burning its way down my throat. I took the soju bottle, poured my companion a drink, and we were about three shots in (each), when the samgyeopsal (Korean bacon) arrived. It was at that time, I got chummy with the vice principal and other male teachers. They joked first about me being a gyopo (second generation Korean-Westerner), and then made it their mission to raise enough money to visit Canada in ten years.

As the evening went on, I managed to eat as much as I could to soak up all of the soju I was receiving from the teachers (about a half a shot per teacher). They were thoroughly impressed with how much soju I could drink, so they made it a competition to get me as wasted as I could possibly get. There were about twenty teachers and five admin, so I had well over a bottle and a half of soju that evening. As soon as we had emptied every side dish, rice bowl and barbecue pan (for the samgyeopsal), everyone decided to call it a night. Good thing too. My vision was blurry, my depth perception was off, but I managed to stay composed enough to receive ‘wows’ and ‘nice one!’ from my co-workers as we walked out of the restaurant.

I was about to head home, when the young female Andeok teachers called me over to their circle. They were about to walk to the mart to get some ice cream and wanted me to come with them. In their buzzed state, they reminded me of schoolgirls, gossiping to one another, fussing over which ice cream they should get. I loved it. What a fresh new atmosphere from the formal ambiance of the busy workplace.

With our ice creams, we sauntered toward the direction of my home and the teachers’ dorm. Giggling and discussing some serious and girly topics, they asked me my opinion on everything girly they could think of – from Ken to issues facing Korean women today.

Completely satisfied, we reached our separating streets, exchanged hugs, said our goodbyes, and retreated for the night, ready to take on the next day at Andeok Middle and High School.

- Jess

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