Last Nite

So, last night.

Yesterday was like official me and Mr. Wan day or something. We left the school at 1:20 to get to the other school for what ended up being called an "English festival", although it was nothing of the sort. Basically, we sat in on an English class with a native and Korean teacher, which was absolutely ridiculous. To the extent that I actually couldn't contain my laughter throughout. It was obvious the thing had been practiced with the kids ahead of time and that the kids had been hand picked for this little performance. The little angels sat attentively and enthusiastically, while the two teacher breezed through brand new vocabulary dealing with actual concepts, which the kids magnificently picked up after hearing it only one time. Every question resulted in dozens of raised hands and immaculately pronounced correct answers. As Mr. Wan put it, "Everybody knows this is a show."

At one point, one of the kids slipped up and just shouted, "TEACHER!" at the top of his lungs.

I leaned over to Mr. Wan and said, "Now I feel like I'm in one of my classes."

Afterward, I was forced to introduce myself (while using a microphone, which I absolutely hate) to the entire room of Incheon foreign teachers and Westerner wrangling coteachers with three other new teachers. I was the only one who knew the name of my school.

Then I also got picked as a "volunteer" to show an example of one of the games the foreign teachers plays with his classes, which only further solidified my resolve not to make my students do ridiculous things in front of the entire class just because they're 13/14/15. We all have a little pride, and it should be left alone.

After, Mr. Wan and I took a bus back to Hyoseong to hmm and haa over what we should do until 6:30, when his friend S would meet us. We wandered around for a while and very nearly meandered into one of those charming motel areas, which Mr. Wan told me is where men and women go alone. No shit, Mr. Wan. Eventually we found our way into a bar where Mr. Wan ordered me a Cass, and even though it tastes like shit, I was warm and smoking with a beer in front of me, and therefore the happiest I had been all day. Mr. Wan mentioned that we seem to be understanding each other better and having better conversation. I told him I had noticed the same thing, said I thought we were finally comfortable with one another. We did the whole ex's story exchange thing. He told me he still misses his first girlfriend from time to time, but not to worry -- that she lives in San Francisco and is married with two children. I told him I don't miss anyone from my romantic past, even slightly. He said, "I think maybe you have new boyfriend every day so much that you cannot remember." I told him that wasn't quite the case.

He asked me if I found any of the foreign teachers at the meeting attractive, and I told him I hadn't really noticed anyone in particular. He mentioned one -- sort of the typical American ideal, with blonde hair, a nice tan, muscles, tattoos. I told him that was absolutely not what I found attractive. One of the teachers had given a speech about how he just had a baby, and had married a Korean woman and highly suggested we date Koreans, which was stupid and not related to teaching at all. Mr. Wan said, "How about dating a Korean man, like the teacher suggested?" I told him I wasn't sure, that I think everyone would be very surprised to hear that I had a boyfriend. He said, "Korean or just boyfriend?" I said, just boyfriend.

We met S at the station. Mr. Wan had told me he has known her since he was 20, and she is 38, that she used to be very beautiful. He mentioned this again at dinner, in front of her, and I told him quite frankly that I thought she was still beautiful, very much so. Seeing the two of them together, I was pretty confused about what confused Mr. Wan about the relationship between Mike and me. They remind me a lot of us. Still, when the conversation turned to a particularly adorable math teacher in the office at work, and S and I teamed up on Mr. Wan about growing a pair and asking her out for coffee, he said to me, "How about Mike?"

"How about Mike what? To date the math teacher?"

"No. How about asking Mike for a date?"

"Fucking... why would I do that? At all?"

"You said you think he is very handsome."

"He is very handsome. But he's my friend."

S leaned in and held my arm. "You see, Liz, this is Korean men. They cannot believe in just friendship between a man and a woman. It's pathetic."

S is fantastic in every way imaginable. She traveled throughout the middle east when she was younger, and lived in Turkey for nearly a year. She never wants to get married, preferring instead to see as many men as she can. We had all kinds of lovely conversation about politics -- she even mentioned that although she is very happy Obama was elected, it will not change the system, and the system is the problem -- and poetry and the differences and similarities between being an American woman and a Korean woman, and being a female abroad in general. Mr. Wan started to sulk as the evening got deeper, and I told him I was getting horrible vibes from his direction. S said, "We are not paying enough attention to him."

Mr. Wan then told me, "You have to choose. S or me. You cannot like her better than me."

Then somehow Mr. Wan decided to ask S if she would introduce him to some of her students -- she works at an all girls high school. S told him to use his electronic dictionary to look up the word "pedophile". This suggestion out of him gained him so much attention from us, that he decided it would be wise to take it to the next level and ask if I would ask Mike to introduce him to some of his female middle school students. I then introduced him to the concept of the Michael Magnes Step Too Far. He said he missed Mike and that he should be there to keep things balanced, since S and I were only talking to each other.

Around midnight, we were all fairly drunk, when some younger guys at the table behind us suddenly decided to fling some soju at us. S turned her chair around and proceeded to have a confrontation with one of the young men, while the other quickly got up and left the table. They were part of a much larger group which were seated at the table adjacent to us, but we didn't know this at the time. S and the young man had a pretty serious sounding conversation in Korean, and eventually the other one came back and things started to get heated. Mr. Wan stood up and walked over to stand between S and the guys. She said something, and one of them kicked their table over into ours, smashed a shot glass and threw his cell phone at S, at which point I also stood and started to move toward him. Mr. Wan grabbed my arm and pulled me back, told me please to sit down. I said I would sit down as soon as the guy left the establishment. S continued shouting at the guy, as the bar staff began to gather to diffuse the situation. The young men were asked to leave.

After they had, S explained that the problem was that the young men decided Mr. Wan and S were being too friendly with me and were tired of hearing us speaking English. Basically, they said that Mr. Wan and S were kissing my ass because I was American and showing off their education by speaking English with me. As she was explaining this, one of the guys from the other table walked past and cackled, and when he got back to his table, stood in front of it, raised his arms and shouted, "Do you understand?" in English. I locked eyes on him for a moment and scanned the rest of the men at the table. Mr. Wan, seeing this, jumped up and grabbed the check. "I think it is time we should go." None of the men at the table would even look me in the eye, though, and I told Mr. Wan I wasn't going to start a fight for no reason, not to worry. He said, "No. I do not like this. We should go." S and I had just lit cigarettes and she told him we would stay and finish them. He stood in front of the table begging us to come on and leave, but I stayed seated with S until we had finished.

I don't know what to call that, exactly. Racism seems the most apt term, but it's not racism exactly, since their problem was not with me, but with Mr. Wan and S being friendly with me. I've heard of things like this happening, but certainly didn't expect it. I guess what it is, is just something that is a problem the world over, which is people not just minding their own damn business. Anyway, it was a truly fantastic evening, despite the situation, and I am really looking forward to meeting S again in Hongdae next weekend.


MikejGrey said...

Mr Kwan, why am I so handsome?

I'm no Picasso said...

Because you have nice eyebrows, and a very well-defined chin.

Tuttle said...

Wow! The last time I was in a bar speaking English w/ Koreans right next to a large group of younger people, they kept asking us to come over to their table and speak English with them.

Sounds like your scene (nicely described, BTW) could have gotten really ugly ... but I think it's xenophobia rather than racism. With a large dollop of misogyny in there, too. Your friends were speaking English with a foreign female.

Find a nicer bar.

MikejGrey said...

Do you think I should get some work done on my chin to make it more handsome?