McDonald Flavoured Underpants
Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
20Trip End Mar 02, 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
I had my first authentic Korean dining experience. The tables are on a raised platform with heating underneath. You take off your shoes before you step up there - it's Korean custom to take your shoes off before you enter a room - I think it dates back to the ancient Shinto religion where removing ones shoes is a way of cleansing oneself.
Personally, I think it's because Koreans have the nasty habit of very vocally clearly their nasal passages and taking great joy in spitting enormous gobs of mucus onto the footpaths. Not the kind of stuff you want to walk into your house.
Anyhoo, in the traditional dining setting, you sit on the floor at a low table, and are served lots of small dishes in little bowls. Each person gets a bowl of soup, usually seaweed soup or Miso and a bowl of rice. However all other dishes are communal. You don't gather up bits of everything and put them on a plate, you just pick them up straight out of the serving dish and pop it in your mouth. This intimate way of dining freaks out some foreigners who aren't used to getting up close and personal with other people's chopsticks, but I figure it's just a good way for us all to build up our immune systems. There are some things that are extremely impolite to do when you're eating. You should always wait for the most senior person to start eating and you should never blow your nose or sneeze at the table. Some other things though, such as talking and laughing with your mouth full and smoking at the table are considered normal, so you get a chance to be the kind of slob your grandmother (ajumoni) would deplore. They also eat very fast, which is haard to keep up with if you haven't yet mastered the art of using flat silver chopsticks.
After one of the yummiest and cheapest meals I've ever had, Ann took me to the grocery store, which is a little different to you run-of-the-meal Woolies or Coles.
These things have to be seen to be believed.
The actual grocery part of the department store we went to had FOUR FLOORS of groceries. They're divided into live produce (squirming squid and really depressed looking fish), fresh produce like veggies and fruit, dairy products and packaged food like sauces, and a floor of toilet paper and housey stuff. You go from one floor to the next in these enormous elevators that carry everyone and their trolleys. To access the shops you go into the subway, which, in Korea is like an entire city all of it's own. Think the underground tunnels between the QVB, Town Hall and Centrepoint in Sydney, and multiply it by about a zillion. The first part of the shop we popped in was the underwear section, which oddly enough had a MacDonalds in it. Yes, a Maccas in the underwear department. Next to where you pay for your new fry-scented undergarments. I know the Koreans pride themselves on utilising their space real well, but don't you think that might be taking it a little too far?
The grocery department has everything in bulk, and as I'm only going to be in my apartment for a few weeks, I didn't really want to buy twenty-four rolls of toilet paper, 10kg of rice or 2 litres of soy sauce. So, going above and beyond the call of duty, Ann took me to her own home, gave me her toilet paper, some tissues, some soy sauces, some yummy scrummy cake things and a new mug. I'd heard that Koreans were generous, but I thought that was just really lovely.
I'm spending my days at the moment going between Sogang University in Seoul at a teacher training course with 65 other new recruits and the other time in observation classes at my school in Juyup. The schools are absolutely beautifully equipped. They look like a childrens fairytale dream come true. They're really bright with themed rooms (Juyup is themed with outer space - Jupiter Room, Draco, Cassiopeia, Saturn - it's so cool.)
My first observation class was a level called Rainbow Bridge - Korean aged kids of around 5-6, so in our years, as young as 3-4. It's pretty much just fun lessons to get the students to adjust to a school-like situation, to learn how they're supposed to behave and whatnot. A lot of the parents are really obsessive about their children and stand at the window watching the class for the entire two hour period which can make it quite hard to teach properly.
You know how I spent ages joking about how I was going to get groped on the boobs? Well it happened on my very first day. One of the little boys couldn't contain his curiosity and had a friendly squeeze. It's difficult to discipline someone looking up at you with cutie little Panda eyes calling you Amma (Mummy), but discipline him I did. "Kathryn Teacher's breasts are not for grabbing! They belong to Teacher. NO TOUCHY!"
I've now met most of my co-workers and have taken a shine to them all. In particular a girl and a guy from Canada called Maria and Jeremy . At our class today at the University we chummed up with a bunch of foreign and Korean teachers from other SLP school and hit the hoks (pubs) of Downtown Seoul. I think the proprietors were a little surprised to be inundated with a bunch of boisterous foreigners at 4:30pm, but they took it in their stride. I got to know a great bunch of people and have made myself two new best Korean friends who have promised to take over my language instruction. I also experienced my first ever Korean Squat toilet. Which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a flushing whole in the ground that you squat over. Not as traumatic as I expected it to be. At the other hok we went to, I was more confused by the toilet with the padded seat and computer controls. One of the Koreans girls kindly explained it was a bidet. After some determined button pushing, I discovered this to be true. Truly frightening.
At one point we were all loitering on the street which was packed with dried squid vendors and market stalls, when we were accosted by a bunch of girls in really really strange sailor costumes and a man inside a so-jo bottle costume. They were handing out free bottles of so-ju (which is sort of Korean vodka) so of course we all got involved. Jeremy took my photo with the big bottle guy and I'll post it on here as soon as I get a copy. With promises to all get together in Itaewon - Korea's entertainment hub - on Friday night, we all started making our way home. I actually managed to find my way from Downtown Seoul back to Juyub, with three subway line changes and one train termination without getting lost or panicking once. I did have a couple of the guys with me, but I like to imagine it was my unfailing sense of direction that got us all home safely.
I have another full day of orientation and observation tomorrow and Friday, then a whole weekend of glorious fun with my new buddies on Friday! Hazzah!
Oh, by the way, I now know how to order beer in perfect Korean without stumbling once. Shille-hamnida! Hanna Casse jusayo! Mmmm. Beer.