Wednesday, 13 August 2014

School Bonding Time

I'm really behind on posts! For the last two days of the final week of school, we had "teacher bonding" time. I think most, if not all, schools do this, because Nick also had a similar event with his school. These dinners might as well be compulsory. They're pretty important as a social event, and are seen as a treat from the principal and vice principal, so to refuse would be pretty rude, right?

The idea is you eat, drink, and be merry with your coworkers, in order to strengthen friendships and sort out any misunderstandings outside of the workplace. It's a really nice concept and I wish we had something like this at home.

Anyway, I only had a few lessons on the Thursday, and nothing else to plan, so I was dozing until it was time to go. We were roughly assorted into teams, piled into any available cars, and drove to a nearby barbecue house. I feel like we ended up booking out the entire place.

Can I just say, Korean BBQ is my new obsession and I want it forever. You can't really recreate it at home and just the casual, chatty, social aspect is so relaxing!

*Homer Simpson noises*
Now, this is Korea. So there's also bound to be a lot of drinking involved. Again, it's part of the social aspect, so generally it's encouraged to join in as much as possible. My school was quite partial to a "one shot!" of beer or soju, (essentially, DOWN IT) which quite pleasantly led me to discovering that I much prefer Cass and Hite to any of the beers we have back home. They're lighter and milder, which I guess is why so many people DON'T like them. Even my coworkers were surprised when I said I preferred it, because they all seemed to prefer Western beers.

Once we'd all stuffed ourselves and quite possibly depleted the restaurant's entire supply of 쌈 (leafy vegetables such as lettuce that you use as a sort of burrito wrap vehicle for all that meat), half of us moved onto "round 2", a nearby bar, whereupon the drinking continued.

Here, I had my first experience of "strange food". For the uninformed, about 4 years ago I made a promise to myself to try everything once. I heard people saying "번데기" a lot, but assumed they were joking around. But then the crockpot of soup appeared and, oh.

For the uninformed, 번데기is "silkworm pupae". Yep. Bugs.

Everyone squealed when I ate it and they were all very excited, because it's not exactly a common food here. A lot of people seem to be squeamish about it. You can buy it from street food vendors and it's available canned in most supermarkets, but it's not a prolific food like, say, rice or pork.

I know it's cliche, tasted like chicken. Chicken cooked in a vegetable stock cube. It wasn't too bad and I actually ate more than one. The texture of it was very similar to eating a kidney bean or something similar. A bit of a tough exterior, then floury and soft inside. There's also an oddly satisfying 'pop' when you bite into it, which is gross but fun like bubble wrap. I dunno, maybe I just had a really well-cooked version, but it's really not that bad. I've seen people eat weirder-looking things from the sea!

Speaking of which...

Day 2! We only had 2 hours in the morning which I feel was just a "goodbye, have a good vacation" moment for the children, at which point we were then meant to go to lunch, followed by a teacher trip to a museum in Seoul! So cute, and really exciting (for me).

We had lunch in a place that specialised in soups, and had a really warm, filling meal followed by fruit. However, I was informed that nobody really wanted to go to Seoul because it was far away and busy, so they'd only go if the principal and VP also went. I think the important thing was that you bond with your year group, so in the end we went to the beach instead, hahaha.

As soon as we arrived we went into another restaurant?! But I was already so full ;__;
"Do you like raw fish?" I was asked worriedly. I replied that I was fine with raw fish and quite enjoyed it, imagining sashimi and sushi, which I do enjoy very much.

However this resulted in me bearing the brunt of "let me treat you!" mode, getting seated closer to the centre and encouraged to eat pretty much everything. And it wasn't sashimi. It was shellfish of all kinds imaginable, and I'm not even sure I recognised half of it. Bearing in mind that for most of my life I've had a fear of shellfish running very close to something like a phobia.


What you see in the photo above is just a tiny portion of what we were served. There were plates of squishy things that I obligingly tried (and enjoyed some of, I will admit), but this was repeated at least one more time if not twice down the length of the table. I thought it was a lot for a lot of people, but more dishes were brought out with alarming regularity, until the table was too full for any more. At which point there was some rearranging of half-empty plates so that some could be taken be replaced by MORE.

I will add that all the while we were drinking beer and makgeolli (a rice wine, and very lovely too). I feel like when they found out I liked makgeolli everyone upped the ante and started asking me for more toasts. This time I also had to pour drinks, which was scary but again nobody complained so I can't have messed up too badly.

Having already had a large lunch, as well as a lot of the fish, I assumed that everyone else would be feeling the same and that would be the end of the meal. Time for a nice wander on the beach.

Nope! Time for soup!

How is everyone eating so much? Where is all of it going? How are they all so skinny?

Anyway, the soup WAS the last thing, and we did go out on the beach for a while. Some people went paddling, but I'd chosen socks and trainers, and the sky kept having little random bursts of heavy rain, so I decided against it.

Everyone kept apologising for the ugly, dirty beach. I'm sorry, what? Have you seen some UK beaches?
By now it was about 6pm so I assumed everyone would now want to head home, considering it was about a 45-60min drive away from school.

But no. Time for round 3?!

We went to a newer part of town, settled in a Japanese bar which was newly opened that day! We were their second ever customers, so free rice cakes for us. Not that I had much room for them.

Or the plates of tempura and fried chicken and teriyaki and other bar snacks that they ordered?!
There was some more drinking of beer and sake variants, which I started to decline, opting to drink my beer very slowly (all of the food and drink offered was Japanese import, so naturally much more expensive) and watch some drama unfold as a few people sorted out their disagreements that had built up over the semester.

It unfolded very slowly.

I think the people sat around me probably felt similarly uncomfortable at the drama (possibly more so, considering they could actually understand what the crying was about) and I'm thankful for them engaging me in conversation for so long. Many of the people talking to me majored in English, but just hadn't had much opportunity to speak it since, so I suppose they were nervous. Not that they should have had much cause for it, they were all so good!

I also distracted myself with this teriyaki chicken foot skewer, which was great, if not really chewy.

With my phone dying, and emotions running high, I was getting a bit concerned about getting home. Nick had been home since about 5, and I felt bad. If I'd known I'd be out so late he could have met up with some friends, but alas. Also, in an effort to save battery and not look bored, I'd put my phone on the table, so amidst all the noise I missed his calls. All 7 of them. With the last thing I'd said being something along the lines of "I'm tired, I don't know where we are and I don't know when I'll be home. Maybe soon." Not the most reassuring of messages to then be uncontactable.

Eventually someone managed to calm things down enough for the half of us that shared a car to usher one very upset teacher out, into said car, at which point the person driving very kindly offered to take us all home. So many lovely people!

I got home at about 1am to find Nick curled up in the fetal position on the sofa, having marathonned about 6 hours of Chuck. ㅠ__ㅠ I'm sorry!

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