Friday, December 31, 2010

Good lord, it's a bus full of teachers!

Hello all! Yesterday being the last day of school, today was the teachers' end of year 'picnic' trip. And oh boy was it a wowser! I can in all honesty say that I've never been on such an interesting and also possibly such an illegal business trip in my life. It wasn't that we did one particular thing that was spectacular, but rather, the whole day added up to .... well, something pretty darn memorable!

Lucy and I braving a taxi
 Ok so first things first. The lovely Lucy came to visit on Sunday last week and stayed with me for three days, discovering the joys of ondol heating (Korean underfloor-heating) and particularly, how awesome it is to sleep on when it's cold outside! Also, the joys of noraebang (karaoke), soju, Korean taxis, snow, snow and more snow. On our first night, in the space of a 20 minute journey, our taxi driver managed to only just miss colliding with a delivery bike and another taxi, and then dropped us off in the middle of the road, nowhere near the pavement, leaving us to splash through a pile of dirty slush.

Introducing Lucy to Cass beer
Oh and the snow... so yes, it's been cold. It was so cold that on the way to and from Incheon Airport, the condensation on the inside of the bus windows FROZE, even with the heating on. Luckily it started raining on Lucy's last day, so the snow melted a little and wasn't so bad... or so I thought. At about 12, the rain became snow. And more snow. And more snow. About 10cms later, it eased up a little.. needless to say, I am very definitely sleeping on my floor these days as even with a hoodie, trackies, three blankets and my heating turned up full blast, my bed isn't cutting the mustard any more. (If you want to see snow pics, you can have a look at my facebook albums - will post a link in a bit). Oh and hehe, I have a confession to make here - as previously confessed, I am not a fan of snow. But I don't mind it so much when it's as thick as this was, as it's way easier to walk on and more crunchy than slippery. As I was meeting Lara for dinner on Tuesday, I remembered that she had professed a wish for a snowball fight. Obligingly, I decided that a surprise snowball would be in order, that I would spring out with. Going for the surprise 'snow' factor rather than the 'fight', I decided that I'd only toss it, and throw with my left hand so there'd be a chance it wouldn't actually hit her at all. So I hid behind a car, and got ready to girly-throw my ball of powdery fluff...

Ba-bow. Failure. Not only did I manage to hit her, I managed to hit her right in the face. O_O

So back to the story. What with the cold and all, most of us had our fingers crossed that the teachers' trip today would be cancelled, as we knew we were going to Namiseon (남이선), an island in Gyeonggi-do famous for its scenery and for being the site for much of the famous Korean drama [Winter Sonata] ([겨울 연가]). (These days, apparently some famous Thai film has also been shot there.) But no, so we all turned up at school and hopped onto the bus at 9 and set off. Being in Korea, this meant, we immediately cracked open the food, so everyone got their roll of kimbap, as well as a bottle of water, a packet of songpyeon and sweet ddok (see earlier post for an explanation) and a little snackpack consisting of a packet of salted peanuts, two mini nougat chocolate bars (like Milky Ways), a small packet of Gosomi biscuits, two mandarines, some gum, some caramels and a cheese sausage stick. And of course, the alcohol. Most of the male teachers were sitting at the back of the bus, like where the tough kids sit, and three bottles of soju immediately found their way there.

Mohyeong Joong library entrance
Before heading to Namiseon however, we made a detour by Mohyeon Middle School in Yongin which is famous for both a high record of academic achievement and for it's excellent afterschool- and mentoring programs. It was amazing! Perhaps because it was kind of on the outskirts of the city, almost in a kind of small satellite town, the grounds and buildings were twice the size of ours with space for gardens and some small fields for their agricultural program. Once inside, everything was clean, well sign posted, very modern looking and brightly decorated. We peeked into a classroom, which looked to be about a third again as big as ours, and then went to the library to watch a short video on their afterschool program and talk to some of the teachers in charge of it.
It. Was. Amazing! The library was beautifully decorated, both structurally and by the students (presumably), and very inviting. Apparently Hankook University of Foreign Language Studies has a campus in the town nearby, which supplies their Mentoring (like after-school tutoring) programs with all their teachers too. My co-teacher Ms Shin (who is also in charge of supervising the afterschool program) asked their supervisor what their secret was to a successful program, to which they answered "it's magic!" Cute, but possibly somewhat smug? ... Anyway, it was a beautiful school, so any smugness would be well justified!

1/3 of the school building and a third of their playground

Another 1/3 of the total building

Handing out the Cass
So after Mohyeon, we piled back on the bus and started the 1 and a half hour trip it would take to get us to Namiseon. By now it was about 11.30, so obviously, it was beer o'clock. Since it was a more reasonable hour, some of the female teachers joined in, so I didn't feel so bad about sharing a beer with my bus-buddies Miss Cho and the tech teacher Mr Lee Soong-Gi, although some of the other teachers made surprised noises that I was able to drink. Even more surprising however was when the bad boy teachers at the back lit up and started smoking. Yep, you read that right - teachers, smoking, on the bus. Oh, sorry, smoking AND drinking, on the bus. Just like would probably happen if it was a school trip with the kids and one of them had lit up (probably without the alcohol though), soon the other teachers up the front noticed and started yelling at the smokers to put out the cigarettes and telling them off for the smell. The rebels tried cracking open the hatch at the back, but eventually put out their smokes, thank God.

Some six packs of beer later, we got to Namison, just in time for lunch. Keep in mind the food that we had already had, as well as two more boxes of mandarines that we'd been munching our way through, as well as the beer and soju... but this was barely an appetiser. Lunch was dak-kalbi (닭갈비), bing-eo twikim (빙어 튀김) and makguksu (막국수), a kind of broiled chicken marinated in a spicy sauce, deep-fried freshwater anchovies, and buckwheat noodles in a spicy sauce/soup served cold, like a mix between mul-naengmyeon and bibim-naengmyeon, but with julienned carrot strips, lettuce and kim (seaweed). Unlike the kind I'd tried before however, this dak-kalbi was grilled like samgyeopsal over a firepot. Of course, it was all delicious! Especially the bing-eo, which had really soft and almost creamy flesh, and wasn't crunchy like it's saltwater cousins, myeolchi (멸치) which is usually dried before it appears in dishes. And of course, there was more alcohol. Since none of the three teachers I was sittng with drank however, I didn't have anything either, which was lucky because I don't think I could have knocked back the three or four (or five or six) bottles of soju that ALL of the other tables were managing. Don't get the wrong idea (if you've never been to a Korean meal in Korea before), it wasn't a general lunch-time sot-fest. It was very convivial, with everyone pouring drinks and toasting each other, and as is usual for Korean meals, making sure everyone had lots to eat and sharing the best bits of the dishes with everyone else, in some cases force-feeding each other by holding it to their mouths and insisting "먹어! 먹어!" ("mok-o! mok-o!"/ "eat! eat!")

Soju bottle Christmas tree
After lunch, we sauntered onto the ferry and made the 5 minute journey out to 'The Republic of Namiseon', highly amused that our tickets were in fact 'visas' and that the boat proudly declared "We Are All Naminarians! Welcome!" on the front. Despite the snow, or maybe because of it, it was beautiful! Many of the teachers had been at least once before, so we just kind of wandered around the tiny island, looking at all the displays and trying not to make the resident wild ostriches and Muscovy ducks angry (if you know anything about either of these animals, both can be prone to rather violent anger) and taking lots of pictures. Despite the large crowds of tourists, many from Japan, Thailand, China and Vietnam, it was very serene and peaceful, and we saw various ice-sculptures (or rather icicle-sculptures made from frozen fountain jets), the UNICEF Hall of Peace, dozens of different artworks made of soju bottles, the Cheot-kisu (첫키스 or 'first kiss') place from 'Winter Sonata', Meta-Sequoia Lane, a strange kind of pyramid made of books, and so on. And there were periodic woodfires to melt yourself in front of, so it was very nice ^_^

Meta-Sequoia Lane

My principal and Mr Park having a snow fight

Ms Ha (?), Miss Cho, Ms Shin and Ms Park
**Sadly, I don't have any more photos after this point as my camera has gone kaput for some unknown reason**

After an hour or so of wandering around freezing our butts off, it was home time, so we putted back across the semi-frozen river on the ferry and gladly scrambled back into our warm bus. Once we were all in, the teachers began again on that consummate solution to the cold - more alcohol - and began shouting for another - noraebang! Others brought up the small point that karaoke on buses is now in fact illegal in Korea, to which the Principal, Mr Kim, responded that yes, and so was drinking alcohol. Twenty minutes of discussion later, as one of the teachers who is leaving next year to do his PhD moved down the bus pouring shots for everyone (Miss Cho, who doesn't drink, was very smart and took a very small amount, then discreetly spat it out while pretending to drink a cup of coffee), and the art teacher Mr Lee Kwang-Jae solved the argument by putting a song on, picking up the microphone, and belting it out, followed by four others, all male, and all most likely the biggest drinkers. Having warmed up the bus-mosphere, they then decided that since none of the women were singing, the best way to spread the trend was by making ME do one. I am by no stretch of the imagination a good singer, being mostly tone-deaf, but I can usually hit a few of the right notes (mostly by accident). So I wasn't exactly keen. Nonetheless, seeing that there was nowhere to run away to, I thought "why not? Better to embarrass myself having a go at something rather than falling over drunk at a dinner at some point", took a deep breath, got up and belted out "All I Want For Christmas" by Mariah Carey. Having been completely abandoned by Miss Cho, thankfully then EVERYONE (including the people who had been pretending to sleep) on the bus started clapping along, in some cases singing, and then my Principal, bless him, got up and danced along to the music. If you've never seen a short, stocky, slightly tipsy Korean man in his late fifties with a jolly face and a decided pot belly in a suit dancing along to Mariah Carey, pulling faces, pouting, cheering, and occasionally shouting out "WOO WOO WOO!" behind you on a moving bus while 35 other teachers cheer you both on, you've never done karaoke.

My martyrdom over, everyone politely cheered and I sat down highly embarrassed, and highly amused :) The singing and dancing, including the Principal pretending to pash one of the other male teachers, and at one point what was almost a six-teacher conga line in the aisle, continued for another two hours, and we finally reached our school once more at 8pm after what was possibly the most illegal and interesting bus trip I've ever had in my life. P.S. the cherry on the sundae (or even Thursdae, ㅋㅋㅋ) - I don't have to go in to work tomorrow. My school rocks!

1 comment:

  1. Haha my bus trip was exactly like yours!! Craazy Koreans...but they sure know how to noraebang ^^ I can't believe your last day of school was only yesterday?!?!
    And I know what pash means!! ㅋ ㅋ ㅋ