Alien Nation

Trip Start Oct 29, 2012
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Trip End Oct 31, 2012


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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Gangwon,
Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We woke up earlier than I had expected and I took a quick shower and joined the staff in the cafeteria. We had a traditional Korean breakfast served to us on our little metal trays. I ate rice, sea weed soup, spicy tofu, a slice of egg loaf, kimchi, and a little yogurt drink. Fortified by our nutritious meal we headed out onto the bus. 
It didn't take us long to drive from our hotel to Seoraksan National Park, but every moment that passed brought more dark clouds to the sky. We gathered in a sort of paved courtyard to organize the students to prepare for the hike. The teachers gathered up for a staff photo and I was pulled into the group. We smiled as the photographer snapped a couple of pictures and then the cluster of teachers dissolved.  I milled around for a moment in the confusion until I realized that I was being given directions. Fingers pointed and people spoke to me, but I couldn't exactly figure out what I was supposed to be doing. Eventually I was physically directed that I would be getting my photo taken with the principle. The rest of the faculty, and all of the students, stood, watching me get my picture taken with the principle. 
Now, I suppose, it was my turn by myself. They pointed and gestured and I shuffled slightly, trying to figure out exactly what they wanted me to do. My lips pinched and I tried my best to keep a good game face, but I was becoming more and more uncomfortable. The photographer snapped pictures of me in front of the mountain while a significant portion of the school looked on. I smiled my best waygook smile and the photographer tilted his head, saying something over his shoulder to that made the staff burst into laughter. I felt tears sting the back of my eyes. Are they laughing at me? What did I do? I swallowed hard as he continued to snap pictures and was grateful when it was over. 
I tried to blend in after that, finding a group of female teachers and breathing a sigh of relief at the lack of awkward attention. In an effort to try to make small talk as we waited for our hike to begin I pointed towards the cable car as it started to climb up the mountain. I smiled at my co-worker, saying "That looks neat. I want to try that" without a word of response to me, she turned to the rest of the teachers, announcing that I wanted to go on the cable car. What? No! I meant sometime... I meant in the hypothetical. Not now! They started to discuss the cable car and I backed away slowly, finding a group of students to attach myself to.
I stood with a cluster of girls, discussing the weather and the impending rain. A coworker came up to me, informing me that the principle wanted to take me on a private trip up the mountain. I stood, dumbfounded, for a moment. I tried to politely decline. I needed to stay with the students. But soon I was headed towards the cable car loading station with the principle, an administrative assistant, and the photographer. 
We got our tickets for the cable car, but we had an hour and a half wait before it would be our turn. We went back out into the park, weaving through the trees to get to a temple that sat at the base of the mountain. At first the principle tried to make small talk, but it quickly became obvious that his knowledge of English wasn't enough for even the most basic of conversation. We lapsed into silence as we came upon the temple. We looped around the perimeter of the temple and then seemed to have exhausted the interest of the men. We breezed past a giant metal Buddha statue that was breath taking, and I barely had enough time to snap a single picture. 
Soon it started to rain and we made our way back to the cable car loading station with an hour left in our wait. We found a table in the small cafeteria there and got coffee for our wait. I sat in silence, trying not to look too sullen as the men chatted casually in Korean. I watched the minutes tick by painfully slowly as I blinked back my tears of frustration. It seemed to take forever, but eventually it was our turn to ride the cable car.
We got in line, presented our tickets, and the principle tried to push me to the front. As the doors to the cable car opened the principle rushed in, trying to clear space for me in front of the glass, pressing other Koreans out of the way. I awkwardly maneuvered into the space made for me and tried to look as pleased and awe struck as I could manage. Once a sufficient number of Koreans were wedged into the cable car we took off up the mountain. I snapped pictures of the view with my phone, and it honestly was absolutely beautiful.
It only took a few minutes for the cable car to reach its destination and soon we were rushed out into a loading station at the top of the mountain.  We walked up the stairs to the observation deck and out into the rain. The photographer directed the principle and me over in front of a stunning view and started to snap pictures once again. Then he awkwardly directed me in my private photo shoot. I struggled to understand what he wanted from me, turning my head and body this way and that until he seemed satisfied, or at least resigned. 
Honestly, for as beautiful as it was, it was freezing and rainy on top of the mountain. The principle asked me if I wanted to leave the loading station to go hiking and I declined. Without much else to do we got back in line to go down the mountain. Once again I was pushed to the front of the line and once again I was pressed against the glass as we made our way down the mountain.
By the time we reached the bottom I was emotionally exhausted and ready to meet back up with the group. We all opened up our umbrellas and started heading toward the parking lot where the buses were. Unfortunately it appeared that the buses had all left and a car arrived from somewhere to take us back to the hotel. Good, now that we were back at the hotel I could just join back in with the rest of the students and the staff. But no, we had missed lunch with them as well so the principle took us to a restaurant in the hotel for a special, private lunch. 
Once again I sat in silence, picking at my food, as the men in the group chatted in Korean. Honestly, I couldn't wait until I could just go back to being a regular participant in the field trip.
Eventually we finished our meal and found the rest of the staff in the hotel lobby drinking coffee. I sat down with the women and tried to not look as frazzled as I felt. Suddenly, one of the teachers noticed that the cuffs of my jeans had gotten a bit damp while out in the rain. Now all eyes were on me and my wet pants. Everyone wanted to lean down to see how wet they were. Everyone was terribly concerned about how I could possibly survive such a situation. They discussed it at length around me, pointing at me and using my name, but not really having the skills to address the issue with me directly. 
Soon, my hotel room mate decided we should go back to the room to fix the situation. Maybe someone would have a blow dryer so that I could dry the last 3 inches of my pants. Once I was back in the room I excused myself, saying I needed to "take a rest". I locked myself into the bedroom part of the hotel room and called Carlo on Skype, immediately breaking down into tears. I explained the situation and finally was able to let off some steam and speak to someone in a language where we both understood. It is surprising how alienated I felt through this entire experience. 
 At one point the teacher who was my room mate knocked on the door, asking me if I wanted to join the rest of the school on the next part of our trip or if I wanted to take a rest. I told her I needed to rest and she seemed to find that acceptable. I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with Carlo and watching TV in the hotel room. It was a needed break and it allowed the hem of my pants to dry, so that was a thing I guess. 
After a few hours I saw the students winding their way back to the hotel from the buses and I braced myself for more interactions with my co-workers. When my room mate came back to the room I asked her what would happen next and she told me that dinner would happen in a while, then she left the room to find some better company. I was a little concerned that I wold miss dinner or be forgotten about so after a while I just hung out in the hallway, waiting to see when people starting moving around. Eventually I saw one of the teachers and he told me it was time for dinner. We were the first ones in the cafeteria so we started to eat our meals in silence. After a while the rest of the teachers came into the cafeteria and my room mate joined us at our table, but all the other faculty went to an adjacent table. The male teacher quickly finished his meal and excused himself from the table, leaving myself and my room mate alone at our table. I finished my food and a while later she finished hers, but it was obvious that she wanted to wait for the rest of the teachers to finish their food. They finished eating, but continued to chat merrily at their table. I saw my room mate roll her eyes and huff at being abandoned with the waygook and I just sat silently over my empty meal tray. She shifted uncomfortably next to me watching the other teachers that, she wasn't able to join, enjoying their meal. 
Finally they got up to leave and we followed behind them. After dinner I was invited to join in watching the students do a sing and dance performance but after sitting through it for about a half an hour I excused myself. I wasn't really in the mood for listening to more things I couldn't understand and feeling excluded while surrounded by people. It was time for me to go to bed.
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Comments

Carlo on

That was a tough day for you and I'm glad I was around to chat, Babe. The pressure on this trip must have been suffocating! I know I've complained in the past about this but it is a *damn* shame that they're not better prepared to care for their Native English-speaking Teachers. :(

The pics you took are amazing. The land looks so fresh and hardy!

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