Right of Passage

30 Mar

*I got yelled at for not posting for more than three weeks and it turned out to be just what I needed to get back to writing. Not that I ever stopped. I’ve just been lazy.

Before last week I must admit that as a native english teacher in Korea, I was feeling a little left out. Since the start of my contract it seems two important events for ESL teachers had evaded me. I had yet to consume raw seafood with my Korean co-workers and I still hadn’t done a round at the Noraebang with them.

For whatever reason this has become somewhat of a ritual for EPIK teachers. Koreans do it all the time, but for your standard english speaking slave, it’s damn near considered of a right of passage. Similar to when teenage boys in Africa would wonder into wild to catch and kill a lion before they could be presented as men to their village (only without the pain of getting circumcised). It doesn’t necessarily move you up any notches on the teaching totem pole, but it is something that at least leaves you feeling like you’ve accomplished something–that is, if you don’t already regularly consume questionable raw fish while getting plastered and singing along to songs you normally would only attempt in the shower.

The Monday before my Korean christening my co-teacher informs me that we will be having a staff dinner the following Wednesday. Not that I had anything planned that evening to begin with, but I was happy to be finding out about it two days in advanced. I had almost gotten used to being told about things at the very last minute. I was even more excited to learn that we would be going to a raw seafood restaurant–so excited that I contemplated wearing a tie for the occasion. My thinking was that if I was going to be digesting anything that might still be moving on my plate (specifically squid and octopus), I at least wanted to be dressed for success (turns out there would be no wriggling fish; just the kind that lays there dead).

We promptly take off for the restaurant after playing a few games of volleyball (more on that later) and arrive to a coloful spread of the usual Korean side dishes accompanied by a varied assortment of fish that I probably couldn’t name even if they were swimming beside me, let alone chopped up and neatly laid out on a plate in front of me.  My co-teacher begins to explain to me some of the different choices, but I struggle to listen because I’m too busy trying to decide what to smaple first.

I start to dig in with an open mind all the while assuming there will be something on the table that will have me clutching a toilet later in the evening, but am surprised at how much I enjoy most of the spread (the mid-meal porridge failed to impress).  Just when I think I have sampled everything, my co-teacher points her chopsticks toward a few slabs of light grey meat and tells me it’s whale. I’m told I should dip it in a mixture of salt and chili powder before indulging. Having no preconceived notion of what whale might taste like, it instantly becomes my favorite of everything on the table. With a a texture that I would describe as being somewhere in between that of pastrami and cow tongue I begin thinking of what whale meat might taste like as a sandwich. No cheese, no lettuce. Just some mayo and maybe some dijon mustard, and grilled. I haven’t found out how I can make this dream a reality, but before I leave Korea, it has to happen.

As with any staff dinner, there’s plenty of soju involved and I do my best to keep up with the other males of the school, a few of which are recent additions and whom wanted to slam a couple shots down with the crazy haired waygook. This always amazes me. During school hours I might only get a quick wave and an “anyeong” in passing, but in the context our staff dinners they’re all about coming over to my table and making small talk–usually with my co-teacher doing light translating. It seems the atmosphere of dinner (combined with several shots of the green bottled monster) gives them just the confidence they need to use whatever english they may or may not know and attempt a conversation with me. I love it.

After dinner I plan to make a dash for downtown where I’m suppose to meet a friend for a beer when I’m immediately told that the next stop will be at a nearby noraebang. Before you know it, I’m crammed into a small room with a flat screen TV, a couple of microphones, and around fifteen of the school’s staff (vice principal and co-teachers included) as well as enough liquid courage to make sure even the shyest among us would bust out a tune. Of course I’m among the first elected to sing.

Not having that much time to pick a song, I decide to make my mom proud and select Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” I know all the words and have sang it drunk more than a few times so it seemed a fitting choice. It was either that or Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” which I couldn’t find anywhere in the selection book. I completely murder the song but recieve a warm applause for my efforts. At some point in the night I’m invited to sing a song with the vice principal. I don’t know the song he selects, but I nonethess sling my arm around his shoulder and do my best to be a worthy back-up singer. When I wasn’t singing I was drinking beer and playing the tambourine of beat. Like I said, I was trying to make my mother proud.

Towards the end of the night, as I’m watching my co-workers plow through the playlist, I sit back on the couch, beer in hand, and have what I often refer to as a “Korea moment”–a small subtle slice of time where I once again remember that I actually live in Korea. It’s not necessarily some euphoric moment where the sound fades and you lose yourself  in the crevices of your own thoughts ( as far as I’m concerned that shit only happens in movies and during traumatic events), but I remember feeling like I had all of a sudden reached a new plateau of success in the R.O.K. I still can’t sing for shit, I’m still at the bottom of the teaching totem-pole and soju still makes my breath smell like a sack full of assholes, but somehow in a single night, my life was made better by raw whale meat and karaoke. Life is sweet, my friends.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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2 Responses to “Right of Passage”

  1. Buddakao March 30, 2011 at 11:13 PM #

    dope post yo, the world was waiting. now if only you wouldn´t be so damn lazy and give it one quick read through before you put it up maybe there wouldn´t be so many ¨of¨´s that are supposed to be ¨off¨´s and ¨loose¨´s that are supposed to be ¨lose¨´s and such. but maybe im just breaking balls.

    • Kimchi Dreadlocks March 31, 2011 at 8:39 AM #

      You got a good point, man. I went through it a few times,but probably didn’t give it a thorough edit. I’ve taken another look and everything should now be in top shape. Thanks, Professor Ball Buster.

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