Thursday, September 14, 2006

Louder, brighter, echoier

The rest of my school day was much less eventful than it had started. I taught four classes in the morning, was treated to a lunch of gujeolpan. Gujeolpan used to be a food of royalty and involved do-it-yourself wraps of rice paper with nine different fillings--we had an abbreviated five.

The afternoon was filled with much excitement. At 3:20pm, the time most American students would be plopped in front of a TV, the Korean students were still in school. Today was music day. From what i could tell, there were four female instructors and one old "drill sergeant" barking orders at everyone. About a fourth of the 160 students of Seong Po were holding a percussion instrument. There were large drums, gongs, and cymbals. The drums were beat with one stick that had a padded end, and then another stick without padding. I was at my computer when the class began. The students met out on the field and began marching around, lead by their music teachers. The sound was incredible. While to some degree, all percussion instruments are the same, hearing the Asian flavor of this instruments was interesting. Add in the fact that most of the students playing were the younger 11 year old students, I was amazed.

The students being supervised by the professional music teachers--which I can only assume travel from school to school--afforded the Seong Po teachers time for recreation. Their recreation of choice is volleyball and they take it serious. I forgot tennis shoes, so was forced to wear my clogs on on the dirt court. I walked out with the principal, who had changed into a "training suit." I joined the rest of the teachers and casually hit the ball around with them. Then, the game began: one of the teachers pulled out a typed roster! He shouted out the teams. It was only then that I noticed the score board, the freshly chalked lines of the court, and the group of students who would fetch wayward balls and referee for us.

I was then greeted with some interesting rule. the first was that kicking the ball was fair game. In fact, one of the teachers accidentally asked me, "How do you like this game of football." She had meant to ask me about volleyball. The second rule was that a team could win a point no matter which side served. The game was fun. My team lost the first two by only a few points, but we won the last game easily.

Earlier in the day, the had told me there would be a party for me and two of the other new teachers after school. I was thinking cake and punch. Oh no. What they were thinking was a night out on the crazy town of Seong Po. First, we carpooled to the raw fish restaurant. Though not the same place, it was similar in many ways to the one I visited on my tour of Geoje a week and a half ago. I tried to remember all of my Korean manners as I sat next to the principal:

  • never pour your own drink
  • turn your head when you drink so that your boss cannot see your mouth
  • eating from the communal dishes is expected (even with soup)
  • lick your chopsticks before grabbing something from one of the side dishes
  • drink, or at least pretend to drink anything offered to you
  • and finally, if you don't want more, don't finish.
I lost count of the side dishes after twenty (I'm not exaggerating). The main course was much as I had had before: a translucent fish, served on lettuce and a very strong herb. I fared well at the dinner, and then was informed that we were heading to the noreban (whatever you do, don't call it karoke). The noreban--I think the rough translation is "song room"--was caddy cornered from the restaurant.

Everyone came. This was my first real "karoke-like" performance with the video, and the microphone, and cheesy video on the screen with the words. I quickly understood that Koreans liked their noreban louder, brighter, and "echoier" than any American could conceive.

After trying to reading and singing the words to Eric Clapton's "Layla," I suddenly developed a profound appreciation for Zach Galifianakis' bit on the Comedy Central Show "Dog Bites Man" (see video below) about filming Korean karoke videos as a side job. On the show, he used a leaf blower to create a wind-effect in each of his shots. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing as my colleagues belted out with the the cheesy videos in the background.

The highlight of the evening was my duet of Andy Williams "Autumn Leaves" with my principal. Yes he is a man. Extremely awkward, but strangely fun at the same time. After participating in the staff game of volleyball, drinking with the colleagues, and then signing with the boss, I feel I have finally been initiated.

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