I went to a couple of school dinners when we lived in Buan. I don't remember them being entirely fun but they were an experience. Once, I was relieved to have the other English teacher with me for dinner - she was Korean-Australian, spoke perfect Korean and (bonus) managed to hide any frustration when asked to translate. Unfortunately, about 15 minutes into the dinner she received a phone call from her room-mate who told her their apartment had been broken into. She left for the police station while I soldiered on, untranslated.
My principal in Buan was terribly fond of giving me high-fives, and would regularly walk into my classes and administer a hand slap that would break the arm of a small child. On the evening of this dinner, he'd had a few sojus and his eagerness to high-five multiplied tenfold. The head kindergarten teacher (who wasn't very sober either) noticed my wincing and after a few minutes of heated Korean discussion the principal was cradling my palm like the most delicate of baby birds and gently blowing on it to make it better. I should mention that the kindergarten teacher and the principal were engaged in a sort of seated piggy-back, with the kindergarten teacher latched on to the principal and her arms around his shoulders. As I walked out of the restaurant, dazed, one of the teachers I'd known for months yelled 'NICE TO MEET YOU.' Indeed.
One of the other teachers was kind enough to give me a ride home, and although she'd lived in Buan her whole life, she'd been to our apartment several times before and Buan is slightly larger than the computer screen you're reading this on, we spent ten minutes waiting for her GPS to boot up so she could input my address and get directions.
Last night I went to my first school dinner at my new school. My co-teacher gave me a ride to the restaurant. I sat next to her at our table and prepared for an evening of quietly eating my dinner and making small-talk with my co-teacher while everyone else chatted in Korean.
I couldn't have been more wrong. I was introduced to the teachers where I stood up, awkwardly said hello, awkwardly said 'nice to meet you' and awkwardly bowed and this amalgamation of awkwardness was greeted with riotous applause. The teachers at my table made sure I had enough to eat and took turns talking to me and pouring me soju. The vice principal made me guess his age and called me crazy when I said '21.'
After we'd eaten a ton of barbecued meat, about 25 people moved on to 'Part Two' - a noraebang (karaoke room) nearby. I was wedged between the vice principal - who kept assuring me that New Zealand is beautiful - and a new teacher who speaks very good English which he attributed to his Filipino wife. Soju after soju turned into beer after beer from almost all of the teachers in the room.
I was urged to dance and then sing, I almost fell for the Celine Dion trap but after one of my co-teachers assured me it was her favourite song, I went for Aqua's Barbie Girl. It's not entirely work appropriate but nobody seemed to care. Two of the PE teachers completed an amazing rendition of Gangnam Style (complete with dance moves) and dedicated it to me, because it's my favourite K-Pop song. I think it's everyone's favourite K-Pop song but that's beside the point. I had an amazing evening and went home at around 9pm feeling welcomed and more than a bit tipsy - on a MONDAY.
This morning, I think in part to aide the teachers in their recovery; the first lesson was cancelled so the students could stand outside and do some sort of rhythmic gymnastics on the school field. Unfortunately, for those of us in the office this meant listening to really loud muzak and the screams of small, excited, non-hungover children. Worth it.