Fresh Breath

27 Oct

No doubt,  I talk a lot of shit on this blog.  I can’t help it. There’s so many quirky Korean oddities to comment on. However not everything I come come across in the land of soju and shiny suit ajosshis is a mindfuck. Sure, I don’t get the public toilets or traffic lights, but there’s a lot still plenty about Korea that makes perfect sense.

An example?

After a few weeks on the job I begin to notice that all the teachers in my school disappear after lunch. Five minutes before the afternoon classes start I’m the only adult in sight,  then all of a sudden teachers seem to be dashing from random corners, making it into their classrooms just seconds before the bell rings. The students don’t even seem to notice. I started thinking I was missing out on some daily post lunch party. For all I knew my co-workers were taking off to slam shots of soju and huff paint in the back parking lot. Whatever it was, I wanted in. Not being invited made me feel like an outsider. I love a good workday buzz as much as the next man. Turns out that after scarfing down lunch, all the teachers ritually head off to the little boys and girls rooms to brush their teeth.

This, my friends, is shear Korean brilliance.

For those that don’t know, a great deal of Korean cuisine–as good as it is–can leave ones breath smelling like a poo paper bin in a subway station. Take kimchi for example–fermented fucking cabbage. This is served everyday at lunch (and damn near every other meal for that matter). I eat in in small servings whilst holding my breath. The smell is just that bad.

Once on the subway, I was accosted by the kimchi breadth of an ajosshi who insisted he hold a conversation with me while standing several centimeters from my face the added rank soju stench only made matters worse. My eyes teared up every time he exhaled and it gave me the bubble guts for close to an hour after I reached my destination.

Now imagine being a poor Korean student held hostage by his english speaker’s stank ass breath. The kiddies would sing harsh playground songs about you. Everytime you leaned over to help a child one-on-one, they would quickly cover their nose for fear of inhaling the toxic fumes coming for your mouth. They’d probably even run home and explain to their parents that their learning is being hindered by your lack of dental hygiene.
“What did to you lean at school today Sang Jun?”
“Not a damn thing. Teecha’s smelly breath make my head hurt!”

My co-workers clearly  want to avoid this dilemma, which is why they take the time to address their kimchi ladened breath everyday after lunch everyday before returning to their classrooms.

I now follow suit with the post-lunch ritual and keep my desk drawer fully stocked with a toothbrush, toothpaste, Listerine, floss, and gum. After eating I retreat to the fifth floor bathroom and go to work on my pearly whites. It’s a routine I expect to take back to the states. My mother would be so proud.


Kimchi Dreadlocks


7 Responses to “Fresh Breath”

  1. Sheryl Hurt October 27, 2010 at 11:38 PM #

    Hey Cuz Jay:

    Yes, your mother will be and is proud of you. Everyone should be consious of how their breath smell, especialcally when in someone’s face. Secondly, we should all practice good oral hygiene habits, because it is very imparative to our health. I was just at the dentist the other day for a cleaning and learned how people have health problem as a result of bad teeth.

  2. Sam October 27, 2010 at 11:53 PM #

    I totally agree with this. After a few weeks, I began to notice teachers wandering around the school with toothbrushes. I know brush before I leave the apartment, once I arrive at school, after lunch, and whenever I eat a snack at my desk. I am definitely taking it back to the UK too; we British need all the dental help we can get!

  3. Light Bright October 28, 2010 at 3:24 AM #

    Haa haa. This well conditioned ritual doesn’t seem half bad. I am reading this blog while on lunch break, and can’t help but notice myself running my tongue across my teeth and wishing I too, had a tooth brush in my drawer. No one wants to be the smelly breath teacher, or any other role player. This blog has given me great insight and now I feel the need to take heed. I always rinse my mouth out after eating, if I’m not near my tooth brush anyway. So maybe taking it a step further, as to keeping a fresh tube of paste and a nice brush handy, would be very rewarding… Thanks 🙂 🙂

  4. Kickerjean October 28, 2010 at 9:32 AM #

    To an extent I do agree that oral hygiene is important, don’t get me wrong. But instead of spending 5 minutes taking out their dental paraphanalia, walking to the bathroom, brushing, walking back to the class, and returning the paraphanalia, those damn Korean slackers could be doing something more academically productive such as studying. The elementary schoolers should be taking every possible moment to prepare themselves for the college entrance exam. By spending so much time brushing their teeth they are setting themselves up for future failure.

  5. 3gyupsal October 28, 2010 at 4:28 PM #

    I’m more surprised by the intensity and unhygienic places were you can see people brushing their teeth.

    I remember one time at the movies when I went to the bathroom. I walked into this room that was covered in mystery moisture and toilet paper to find a guy brushing his teeth. I went to the cleanest stall, while listening to this guy gagging and choking and making faces of himself at the mirror. So I take a leak, zip up, wash my hands and leave, and this guy is still flossing and grunting. Probably took about three minutes for this whole encounter. To the untrained ear, it could have sounded like the guy was getting strangled or something.

    • Kimchi Dreadlocks October 28, 2010 at 5:05 PM #

      This is great. At a movie theater? Shit. Now I feel the urge to carry toothbrush wherever I go.

  6. Carly November 5, 2010 at 3:34 AM #

    The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Korea was this warm, fermented, oddly familiar smell. I was on a bus from the airport out to Seoul, and it was winter, so all the windows were shut tight. I, ROK newbie that I was, grasped for an understanding of this new smell. The aijima next to me was REEKING it. What the hell can this be? I puzzled as the bus began rolling. The only thing I could come up with was that it was faintly similar to morning breath after a night of heavy drinking – whiskey breath. Were ALL these Koreans drunk?!? It’s 11 am! Can this really be? Oh shit, what did I get myself into? It wasn’t till I had my first ‘traditional Korean’ meal that I realized that those people were not acutally drunk. No. Instead, they had eaten kimchi. Lesson learned, indeed.

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