This week has been final exam week. The academic year in Korea runs from March – December hence the final exams. I have taught one class all week, it sounds easy but it’s got a little boring. Yesterday afternoon we had a teachers day out. Parents were invited also. Numerous parents (mother’s) accepted the invite and attended. It was quite an afternoon.
We departed for our Sangyeopsal (cannot spell it!) restaurant around midday. We had a very nice coach supplied to transport us all. We arrived and ate our dinner which was not eventful or justifiable of further comment. We finished after an hour or so and headed for our next stop around 2ish. A catholic church about 45 minutes away. Mr Bae informed me that the vice-principal had told everyone we would have a brief history lesson concerning the catholic church before having quote – a ‘crazy party’. Well, I think this turned out to be pretty accurate. It was 2:15 on a Wednesday afternoon and my fellow teachers and the students mothers (known as ‘Ajumma’) had started going wild. They were literally downing beer and soju as the coach was speeding down an expressway (motorway) at 70 odd miles an hour. I never thought I’d see a student’s mother make the principal down drinks, but in Korea this happens and appears to be perfectly acceptable. Ajumma get smashed with the teachers, sing and dance with them, and make them down drinks. It is actually rude for the teachers to refuse! I would have loved to see my own mother insisting that my teachers ‘see off’ their drinks whilst on a teacher-parent day bonding session cruising down the M1 at 70 mph. I don’t think it would have been considered appropriate. But hey? We are in Korea where this is perfectly normal!
The ‘Neurobang’ (karaoke) was in full swing by 2:30 and the teachers and Ajumma were singing and dancing in the narrow aisle. Some even managed to fall over and into others still in their seats as the bus turned or braked sharply, which looked painful for everybody involved – as if this was to deter them though. They laughed it off and carried on as before. They proceeded to down yet more soju and beers until they finally arrived to the church, a catholic one built in 1888. ‘Very old’ they told me. They ‘oohed and ahhed’ over it for a good 20 odd minutes, posed for a few photos and told me ‘Europe style church’. Yes it was, in fact possibly it was the oldest original building I have seen in all of Korea since I arrived here. It was pretty but I didn’t feel it justified travelling for over 2 hours to visit. It was just like any other church in England or Europe for that matter. The Koreans enjoyed it though and I guess it is pretty unique for them.
We went for a walk. Mrs Jeon walked with me. She asked if I had a religion. I told her I did not practise or believe, but I didn’t disbelieve either. Anyway, she told me she was the same until she married her husband. Her husband is ‘very, very strict christian’ she told me. As a result she told me she had to go to church to make him happy. She said it was not important and she didn’t want to go but then quote “I was beaten to go to church and now I believe religion very important“. I’m truly hoping that this was one of those moments where things got lost in translation like the time when she announced ‘Mr Choi and I have very intimate relationship’. That time I think she meant to say that her and Mr Choi have a close working relationship, but obviously it came out wrong. I’m hoping what she meant to say was lost in translation because otherwise it wouldn’t be the most ‘godly’ way to find religion! Needless to say I didn’t ask many more questions and the topic of conversation quickly changed.
After our walk we headed back to the coach. Several of the Ajumma had taken up residence in a bar opposite the church drinking yet more beer. Eventually they finished their beer and headed back onto the bus which was most thoughtful considering everyone else had been waiting for the last 15 minutes. At this point the High School PE teacher decided to grab my stomach and tell me ‘Belly, Belly, Belly’. He then proceeded to announce something to the rest of the bus regarding my stomach in Korean, I have no idea what was said – but everyone was laughing – a lot. Mr Bae told me the High School PE teacher thought I was fat and had a belly. I told Mr Bae to tell him thank you very much and Mr Bae told me not to worry ‘you are brothers now so he likes to joke with you’. I’m still unsure as to what the end result of this ‘banter’ was. Amelia was required to soothe my bruised ego last night and re-assure me that I did not have a belly, at least by Western standards anyway. Doesn’t make me feel much better though when I think of obesity rates in the West nowadays!
We headed back for Chuncheon around 420ish maybe. I was dragged up to dance by an Ajumma who insisted on me dancing with her. It was very awkward as she held my hand and insisted on us both doing ‘twirls’ as we’re speeding down the motorway with all my co-workers looking on, laughing hysterically. I was stone cold sober, when I’ve had a drink I have ‘occasionally’ been known to strut my stuff on the dancefloor. However, dancing with an Ajumma on a moving bus to Korean music in front of all my colleagues whilst totally sober at 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon took me out of my comfort zone a little. I had to dance for well over 5 minutes, my limited repertoire of dance moves had long been exhausted and I was just going with the flow. It was cringe material but everyone seemed to enjoy it. I had no choice but to go along with it, otherwise it would have been rude of me. Mrs Kim afterwards wanted to check I didn’t mind and told me ‘It is our custom, thank you for dancing we had very fun time watching’. I am pleased to hear my dancing was a source of such amusement.
The afternoon brought back memories of our annual football initiation trips at university, lots of excessive drinking and singing whilst cruising down a motorway. We even had an emergency service station stop as one of the Ajummas had drunk too much. Not to mention the disco lights above and below the seats. The football initiation buses were of course a little more wild, rowdy and somewhat more abusive, but parallells could definately be drawn between the two. The difference being that I was surrounded by middle-aged Korean school teachers and parents, as opposed to some ridiculous freshers in tutus, nappies and lingerie. Either way though, both days were fun. I was told to expect the unexpected when in Korea, wise words indeed.