Yesterday we went on a teacher’s trip. It could have gone better.
To start with, yet again we had an issue with things being ‘lost in translation’. Mr Bae had informed me on Friday that we were going ‘trekking’ / ‘hiking’ in the mountains. Naturally, I prepared a change of clothes that would feel comfortable in preparation for mountain trekking / hiking in +30 degree heat.
So Monday afternoon came. I rocked up at our destination wearing football shorts, muddy walking boots and my beloved Leicester City shirt in anticipation for a relatively gruelling few hours. Except we weren’t actually hiking or trekking. It was herein that I discovered nobody else had actually changed from their usual school attire. As it turned out, we were actually visiting a giant garden centre in a mountain valley, NOT hiking or trekking up a mountain or forest. Cue me looking a little ridiculous. I’m not quite sure how Mr Bae managed to confuse garden centre visit with mountain trekking. Nevermind, bless him.
I stuck out enough as it was (As always – I was the only white person around all day) without bringing my bright blue Leicester City shirt into the equation. I got stared at a lot, obviously.
“Who is this ridiculous looking foreigner?” the locals must have been thinking.
Koreans dress relatively conservatively when with colleagues and regardless of the heat, so I was looking rather out-of-place. There is a dress code when partaking in any kind of activities in Korea. I certainly wasn’t conforming to the casual ‘garden centre’ look.
It took the best part of 2 hours to arrive at our destination. Mrs Nams air conditioning in her car was not working properly / non existent. Consequently, after 2 hours in blistering heat with no windows open I was gasping for a drink. When we finally arrived I was greeted my Mr Bae who very kindly gave me a drink. He’d given me a can of some weird rice drink. All the Korean teachers were drinking Lemonade and Coke, and here I was stuck with this rancid rice drink. Call me ungrateful, but it wasn’t what I had in mind to quench my thirst. Mr Bae told me he wanted me to try ‘traditional Korean soft drinks’.
We were to walk around this garden centre for 2 hours. That was fine, not my cup of tea but nevertheless it was more than pleasant. At least I was outside and able to enjoy the fresh air.
At one point we sat down in a ‘traditional’ Korean house. Mrs Nam and Mr Yu were talking. Mrs Nam told me that her daughter had seen me in Emart (Korean supermarket) and wanted me to ‘homestay’ with her and her family because quote (upon seeing me in Emart) –
‘He is so handsome’
I felt a little embarrassed and didn’t quite know what to say as she seemed quite sincere and serious about the proposition. I thanked her for her complement but felt obliged to remind her that I wasn’t sure how my girlfriend would feel about me staying at her house with her daughter. I told her that “perhaps Amelia will be envious“.
Her response – “My daughter is in Elementary School.”
It wasn’t long until we had to leave, and I was hungry. I had my heart set on ice-cream, but before I had chance the Principal had come back with some Corn-on-the-cob. It’s not the worst thing in the world – but I don’t like them! Once again, I had to force feed myself and once again I was the only one eating the corn stick. Everybody else had ice-cream.
At 5pm, I’m feeling tired – it’s been a long day. Then I discover we have a dinner organised. Bibimbap I’m told. Once again, my heart sinks, I don’t like that either, and I loathe Soju. I was seriously hating life by this stage. (For fear of misrepresenting Korean cuisine, I should probably point out that most people do generally seem to like Bibimbap, just not me. My taste buds are a joke).
So after another 90 minute journey we finally make it to the restaurant. I’m hot, tired and thirsty. To my surprise (and relative delight) I learn that the menu has changed. We’ve got smoked duck now.
“There is a god after all” I thought. I then ask for some water. It’s orange and looks like beer. Mr Yu passes it to me.
Me – “Is that really water?”
Mr Yu – “Yes”
Me – “No it can’t be”
Mr Yu – “Yes it is. You must drink it”
So I drink it.
It wasn’t beer, it wasn’t water (as I know it). I don’t know what it was. All I do know is – it wasn’t pleasant. For all I know it could have quite easily been urine (although I’m confident it wasn’t). It didn’t taste much better though. Mr Yu and Mr Bae remained absolutely resolutely insistent that it was water.
I don’t know what to think anymore.
It was probably some kind of flavoured rice water. I don’t like rice drinks. I can handle eating rice, but not drinking rice flavoured concoctions.
Anyway, before I knew it was time to go home.
It was actually quite a fun day to be fair, except for the food and drink. Pretty much sums up our time in Korea so far.
‘Quite fun, just a shame about the food and language barrier’.
Disclaimer – Please be aware that the opinions stated in this post are by no means representative of all westerners residing in Korea re: Korean food. The opinions reflected in this article are purely those of the author. You may be surprised to learn that a large number of westerners do in fact enjoy Korean food. Just not DP.