I knew I’d get sick. I fucking knew it. But as drained and lead-like as I feel right now; I should really give my body props for getting me this far. I’ve spent almost a month putting things into my body that it really isn’t accustomed to – including an unfathomable amount of red pepper paste which is on EVERYTHING here – and have endured a veritable cocktail of weather – heat waves, humidity, rain and lightning storms, simultaneously – not to mention all the cold showers, air conditioning and days and nights of sweating out every drop of my being, I think it’s due a bit of a breakdown.
Trouble is, it’s only Wednesday. And it’s my first week of proper teaching. I need to be on to it, but alas. Consider my brain hazed.
I got to teach kindergarten today though. I wasn’t prepared for it in the SLIGHTEST. Basically I had four back to back classes of mayhem, and then was told that I had kindergarten at 1pm. I basically inhaled my lunch – not an easy thing with the amount of food the cafeteria serves me – hoping to run back to class to prepare just, anything really, but I was told to go to the staffroom to fill out all my leave paperwork. Basically, because I have two different schools on Thursday and Friday, I have to fill out paperwork deeming them ‘business trips’. I then have to get the paperwork signed by the principal and vice principal, which with all the customs involved; bowing, offering with two hands, making small talk when neither speaks each other’s language, let’s just say it takes a while. I went back to the classroom at 1, waiting for the kids to arrive, when my co-teacher came to me and said; ‘Olivia! You’re supposed to be teaching kindergarten!’ Turns out the kindergarten is a whole other building that I have to go to. She took me there, and I had 40 mins with four kindergärtners. I didn’t have a clue really. So we sang songs. Many songs. We danced. And by danced I obviously mean; educated them on the subject of verbs. The kindergarten caregivers didn’t really speak English so I couldn’t ask them what kind of things I should do. But one of them kept popping into the classroom to take pictures of me dancing with the kids. Sure. Okay. Either she’s taking photos because I’m doing this hilariously wrong and she wants to post them on Facebook as some classic anecdote about flailing foreign teachers, or maybe I’m actually doing an okay job. I think either is a viable option.
So by the end of it I was a sweaty mess really. A sweaty, snotty, sneezy mess. But I had fun. Like, a surprising amount of fun. Never in a MILLION years did I ever think I’d be teaching kindergarten. I think my friends and family can back me up on that. It almost seems like the very LAST thing I would do. But I think that makes it the definition of a challenge. Right? Isn’t that the point? Jesus, I really need to quit it with this whole ‘point’ thing. Or maybe not. It seems to help justify just about everything strange/challenging/exciting/frustrating thing I do here. So maybe it’s warranted.
Oh, and I had a teacher dinner tonight. It was to welcome the new principal – who just arrived this week – and to…well, drink really. I was asked to get up and do a speech – which isn’t really that nerve-racking when no-one understands you anyway – and then we ate an abhorrent amount – as is the Korean way – and drank copious amounts of Hite and Soju -as is the Korean way. I was psychologically prepared to do some Noribang – Korean karaoke – because I heard of this happening at staff dinners, but I was let off the hook. For now. One of the teachers took the liberty of informing me that I will have to sing for them sometime. ‘Every new teacher must do it.’ She says. ‘Sing a dance song. The other teachers will enjoy it.’ Oh Korea. Your customs can be so ancient and beautiful, as yet so bizarre and so…K-pop? I’m getting whiplash from all the bowing, and cotton mouth from all the drinking. When it isn’t customary to pour your own drink, or to let an elder pour their own, drinking is definitely a different experience. The funny thing is; the giving and receiving with two hands, the drinking with your head turned, the covering of your armpit when you raise your glass; all of these customs are adhered to no matter how drunk you are. It’s incredible. And Koreans get drunk pretty easily. And as with many Asian people, particularly Chinese and Koreans, they get that special ‘Asian flush.’ They puff up and grow red. Which makes it easy to spot who’s drunk. Someone asked me about New Zealand customs in comparison to Korea’s, and honestly, all I could think of was alcohol. On one hand that could be an unfortunate comparison, but then I think of our craft beer culture and the fucking fantastic wine we make, and I reckon there’s more to our alcohol culture then boozing. We don’t half-ass our alcohol. We whole-ass it.
Luckily, both the Filipino and Kiwi in me co-exist quite happily with alcohol, and I’ve found both Koreans and foreigners alike have become almost frustrated with my inability to become legless. I realise now that it takes a lot to get a Kiwi drunk. For me, it’s certainly not impossible, but unless there’s tequila or two bottles of red wine involved, you’re just going to have deal with coherent, responsible old me. Well, as coherent and responsible as I am able.
I doubt I keep that bar very high to begin with.