The Situation.


I've got an issue, kiddos. The issue is that today I was left unguarded by Coteacher, who accompanied all of the other third grade teachers on the first part of the third grade class trip. Which left me open to all kinds of nonsense all day long. Well. Not really, actually. Just one main thing that's really irking me. But let's just try to get this all going in some kind of organized fashion, shall we? I know. Numbers.

1. When Coteacher isn't around, the other teachers seem to feel a lot more free to speak to me. That is, they feel more comfortable simply addressing me in Korean and not worrying about English. This causes undue stress, because, without my CT safety net around, I tend to doubt my understanding of what I hear the first time, even though I'm usually right. Which means my day was full of a lot of, ".... 네?" But it's nice to get a little Korean speaking time in. The teachers at my school seem to be remarkably good at slowing and down and simplifying for me. If I don't catch it the first time around, they'll reproduce it again in words I recognize. It must be a teacher thing.

Coteacher has started speaking to me in Korean when there are other, non-English teaching teachers around, to sort of clue everyone in on the fact that I am starting to pick a bit up. I feel safer with her though, for some reason.

I think I did pretty good today, though.

2. The hot married PE teacher. It's been a while since I've used this blog to perv on him, but you can believe the perving has been going on. I only allow myself to engage in this nonsense where he is concerned because he's married, and therefore it's basically like perving on a celebrity and I don't have to worry about real-life consequences. Fucked up, I know.

Geez louise, what a man. Yesterday he was in talking to Coteacher, when I must have had a troubled look about me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him nudge her and point in my direction. "What's wrong Liz?"

"I'm boooooored."

Coteacher knows already I hate having reduced classes. Even though I've had the third graders to make up part of the time this week during exams, I've still only had three or four classes a day. So Coteacher decided it was a good time for me to practice Korean conversation. Of course, I mostly refuse to speak actual Korean, but she still did her best to get me and the PE teacher talking.

She asked about the rabbit, and I showed them both a picture on my phone and explained how, when I went to Homeplus to get the cage, a young guy working there talked me into buying a hideous lime green one because it was man won cheaper than the nicer one. Coteacher remarked that she was surprised, because I'm not usually easily swayed from my own way about things, and I said, yes but this was in Korean and I can't really argue in Korean. I was nervous already and just wanted the whole situation to be over and done with. The PE teacher remarked that this was cute. Which is amazing because he said something about me was cute and I'm totally in love with him -- get it?

Then he pulled out his phone and showed me a photo of his son. Then -- are you ready for this? -- he proceeded to basically hold my hand while he shuffled through the photos on his phone while I was holding it. There were rainbows figuratively shooting out of my ears.

Aaaanyway. Today I somehow ended up down in the science lab with a bunch of teachers (including my old main co teacher) making organic cosmetics. Don't ask. But for some reason, the PE teacher also joined in on this.

It was a great Korean practice. I've taken Korean classes in Korean before, obviously, but now I've seen for myself the practical applications of doing these kinds of activities with my students, which I have done before, but I always wondered how useful the English side of it was.

While we were waiting for something or another to heat up on the hot plate (which the instructor informed me was hot, because, you know... foreigners don't just not speak or understand Korean, but they also don't know what a hotplate is, because they're clearly mildly retarded), the PE teacher caught I guess his first glimpse of the tattoo on my forearm. I told him the meaning in Korean while he cradled my arm in his hand and I did my best not to pass out.

During the whole process, the teachers (who are not third grade teachers, and therefore not in my office, and therefore have not been around for the recent Korean language ability developments) had seen me comprehending the teacher's instructions in Korean. The PE teacher had started asking my co teacher questions for me in Korean, but my co teacher would simply shoot her eyes up at me, and I would answer him, without translation, in English. At this point, he finally just started addressing me directly in Korean. And then what happened? The other teachers started shouting at him in Korean, mocking him for speaking Korean to the foreigner, who clearly didn't understand. Even as I was answering his questions, which I was fully comprehending. He finally turned on them and shouted back that we could communicate perfectly fine even though his English is terrible, because my Korean is amazing and they should all be quiet, because we understand each other and live in the same apartments.

You tell 'em. And then also please clone yourself and marry me.

3. Here's the real bomb. My old co teacher decided today that she's coming with me on my trip to Vietnam. It was all so sudden that I didn't have a chance to even pause and try to think of a way to gracefully get out of it.

I'm of two minds about this, at this point. When it first happened, I was infuriated. Who does something like that? I've been looking forward to this vacation for an age, with visions of me playing Thomas Fowler in a gorgeous hotel room overlooking a main road, waking a little late in the mornings and drinking strong Vietnamese coffee at a table outside on my imaginary hotel's imaginary veranda overlooking an imaginary busy, scenic Vietnamese street. I would then spend the day wandering around and taking in the various cities, not bothering with anything too touristy or pressurized, basically just trying to soak up the place in whatever way struck my fancy that day. Time alone. To unwind and decompress from the continuing uphill pace of life in the ROK.

Now I've got a middle-aged Korean tagalong. What in the hell am I going to do with her?

And, more importantly.... I.... it's vacation, okay? Who doesn't look forward to the potential, while traveling abroad, of meeting a cute little local and having a bit of what-happens-in-_____-stays-in-_____ fun? Or just meeting new people in general? Which is a lot harder to do when you have a travel companion.

The woman swears she really wants a real travel experience, and that's why she's opted to go with me, the expert real world traveler (???), instead of the other Korean teachers from my school, who are all going through booked tours. But I don't know if she's really ready for this. On my vacation, there will be no kimchi packing, Korean restaurant going, tour bus souvenir shopping nonsense. The end. We will not be taking photos of ourselves with finger Vs in front of temples and monuments. And we will not be wearing stupid hats that are too embarrassing to wear in our country of residence. No. No no no and no. She says she wants to learn from me how to "really" travel, and hope she means that. I'm not, by far, an expert, but I don't do the package tour bullshit.

My game plan, as it stands, is to not veto this whole thing right away (which could, I admit, be a fatal mistake), but instead to discuss my plans in detail over the course of the next week, including riding on motorcycles, striking out to places with nothing but a map and a god-given sense of adventure, and plenty of imbibing of the local brew, as well as cutting costs and taking the ridiculous, jerry-rigged option whenever the opportunity presents itself. I'll see how she reacts to all of this, and see if she's genuinely open to the whole thing. If it starts to seem like she'd much rather be with one of the other Korean teachers on their package tour, I'll address the situation a little more aggressively.

Oi vey. The situations I get myself into. But, to be honest, a similar thing happened over Children's Day, when Coteacher decided that, since my travel desitnation was near her hometown, we would go together and spend the entire time with her family. It wasn't what I imagined it would (or wanted it to) be, but it was still a lovely time with some lovely people.

I hope it stops after this, though. I get a little tired sometimes, in Korea, of the group mentality. It's the one thing that's really hard for me to cope with about Korean culture. I like doing things alone, and I like doing things my own way, and I don't always want other people jumping in. Sometimes I don't want a ride to _____, because I had my own plans about how I was going to get to ____, and a whole schedule worked out for the day I was going to _____. Sometimes I don't want someone to join me going to that museum, or that temple, or that store, or that movie. I just want to go and enjoy it on my own, without the stress of it becoming a social situation. I don't need help with everything and I don't always need (or want) company. Just because I mention my plans to do something doesn't mean that you're invited.

Does that sound really bitchy? Well. Whatever. I'm trying my best to adjust. But some things about me are not American or Western -- they're just me. And they're not likely to ever change. That doesn't mean I'm wrong.

Well, that was a whole boatload of disorganized, rambling nonsense. Contemplating Mimi's name had me thinking about RENT today, so here.... enjoy this as an apology for the utter mess of random crap this blog has become:

Mimi. <3


Diana E. said...

You already know my opinions on your situation, but I'm glad you're keeping an open mind. It's annoying, the hive-mind, since it's so opposite to our way of thinking, and it catches you in very awkward situations sometimes, but I trust you'll find a way to cope.

I had a really hard time at first planning the wedding because I had NO control over the guest list. In Korea, if you mention an event, it means the person is invited. Foreigners often take YEARS to realize this, so they wonder (I've wondered) why they're not invited to the company dinner, yet asked why they didn't attend the next day. Why a casual mention of your weekend plans suddenly means your co-teacher is taking you out to the family farm for Chuseok.

However, once you "get it," it's easier. I'm having fun now, just inviting all and sundry to my wedding. I even invited my doctor (we've had an ongoing relationship since May, I think that's fair)--haha! The only thing I'm worried about is that the venue comfortably holds about 150 and uncomfortably could hold about 200. It was hard telling my students they wouldn't fit... but alas, they would not. I'll make it up to them, somehow. Perhaps show off wedding photos and design a conversation class about wedding customs in western countries that can devolve into gossip-about-the-teacher's wedding.

Kosaru said...

it's SO hard to be alone in korea. If you manage to get to go somewhere by yourself, likely someone will try to accompany you when they see you by yourself.

Kel said...

hahaha the kimchi packing is hilarious! I first heard about it during one of my teachers' classes when we were having a conversation about travelling, which was SO interesting, how different our ideas were. I was like "wait, what?... seriously?"

They thought I was crazy for going to Malaysia and Singapore alone last summer and not planning a single thing, but I finally convinced them that I like doing things this way and have told them lots of other travel stories. Now they ask me a million questions whenever it comes up and I think I've inspired some of them to try things a little bit differently ^_^

Anyway...ouch. good luck with that!

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Anonymous said...

I know that this is your own blog and you have a right to rant in any way that you want. I'm not contending with that issue and yes, there are times when it is certainly difficult to comprehend things here in Korea. No disagreement there either.

However, some parts that made me cringe were the parts where you sort of look down your nose on Korean cultural things. Where you portray a sort of cultural superiority when it comes to things Korean, that your Western way of traveling is rational and the Korean way of traveling is irrational. Especially since you didn't make this a private entry but a public one inviting people all over the world to read it. When you ridicule kimchi-packing and traveling wearing stupid-looking hats, it seems like cultural arrogance. The parts where you ridicule one Korean's actions and then generalize Koreans based upon on that person's actions.

Yes, it is rather awkward and unusual to have someone invite themselves. But hopefully next time, you will make this sort of thing private or either not display a form of cultural arrogance.

Brian said...

On the one hand I respect your open mind and your desire to please your co-teacher and by extension your school.

But I really think you need to be firm here. This has got to be the most absurd co-teacher story I've ever heard, and I don't think her tagging along will end well.

If you want to make her happy while at the same time not seeming mean, why not remind her you'd like to travel to Vietnam alone (for the reasons you've mentioned online), but suggest visiting something together in Korea when you get back (or in January), like a spa, a resort, or some other place together?

I recently came back from a quick trip to Japan, and like I've found every time I travel outside of Korea, it's refreshing in a way a staycation here can't be. You owe it to yourself to stand up here.

I'm no Picasso said...

Anonymous #2: What made you think I was talking about Koreans? I was referring to the general middle aged attitude toward travel, which I'm sure you can admit is just as common amongst Americans, which is to go abroad and stay in a comfortable language environment, with comfortable familiar food. My specifics were Korean, because the specific person I'm dealing with is Korean. It seems, however, that you assumed I was talking about Korean culture when I addressed these things, which would make it seem a bit like you attribute these kinds of behaviors only to Koreans. Maybe that's something you should think about.

As for tourbus traveling, yes I do look down my nose at it. I don't see the point. Personally, I've worked very hard to get to a place in life where I have the ability to travel to different countries, which is something no one in my family has ever been able to do. I'm not going to waste the entire trip eating food that is familiar to me and staying in a five star hotel watching English language television. You're right -- it is my blog, and I have the right to my opinions about that. You thinking that behaving this way is a particular trait of Korean culture, however, is your conclusion -- not mine.

Brian --

Thank you for the encouragement. I've been waffling back and forth about how to handle this all day. The thing is, I would love to be able to show my co-teacher a fantastic time away outside of the sort of normal tourist bubble, but the thing is, this was *my* trip from the beginning, and it's going to be really difficult to adjust to thinking of it as anything else.

I think it would be best if a whole new trip was planned, so that we can both feel like equal partners in the whole situation.

Tricky. Very tricky.

Anonymous said...

I read ur plight on Brians blog. The etiquette rule here is to inform someone about the problem, and suggest an alternative trip as to prevent her "lose face" or hurt her feelings. Then both of you will talk to her together. Afterwards you can try some damage control privately with her. Don't feel awkward about talking to your principal; it's the way things get done here, contrary to at home where you should be 'man enough' to say it to someone's face, here you use an indirect way, usually with the help of someone with whom she has a good relationship as well, and it helps if that person has some position of authority over her as well, so I guess that would be a principal in your case.

Trying to change her mind by scaring her off sounds like a really bad plan: She will get the 눈치 immediately, and it will always remain an issue. She thinking: What the hell is wrong with her, I was trying to be nice. And you thinking: don't lay the blame on me sis cuz u started it with ur rude, senseless inviting urself.


Hope that solves it ^^ ps. I talked to my superior to get out of a planned trip to China succesfully. *^^;;

Timbo said...

I think the idea of "cancelling your plans" or being curt with her , may not be in the best interest of your long-term plans in Korea.
I would probably try to guage how serious she is in 'joining' you. Has she booked the ticket? (Did I miss that in the blog?)

If she is serious, there are 2 ways I feel you could approach this. One, like you mentioned, lay out what you want, not necessarily plan, to do. ask her how she feels about these things. She may realize that she is getting in over her had at this point and cancel. She may equate "seasoned traveler" with best resort visiter".

The second option, which is probably the best to start with, is ask her what she has planned for the trip. Here you put pressure on her to participate in the planning and for her to express why she wants to join you/leave the hubby behind. Maybe she wants to experience a better unique travel experience with someone she trusts. Or she wants to be better friends with you. Or maybe she wants to see things through your eyes.

If she has no plans, then you may have a problem.

While this whole situation is not what you wanted, there may be some opportunities here: a deeper friendship with someone, a more interesting kind of adventure with someone.

Diana E. said...

Sorry to send jerks like Anon#2 your way who clearly don't understand HUMOR. You're one of the most genuinely trying to understand Korea & its culture bloggers out there. Jerk!

I'm no Picasso said...

Anon 3 --

Thanks for the advice. I was doing my best to send out all the right 눈치 signals when this first came up, because I wasn't sure what else to do. But I guess I just don't have it down yet. I was already thinking of involving another one of my coteachers, actually, who I am a lot closer to and who understands me a little better. She has EXCELLENT 눈치 and is brilliant at diffusing difficult situations with everyone walking away like they feel like they won. These two coteachers know each other very well and are really close friends.

Timbo -- all really good advice, again. She's very, very serious this time I think. She was sending me flights over cool messenger and came to find me after work to remind me to pick up a guide book this weekend and bring it to school on Monday. I think, especially since my own mind has become confused on this issue at this point, I'm just going to have to venture a little ways into this and feel her out a little more before I take any other action.

And Diana --

Haha. It means a lot to hear that just in general and also specifically coming from you. Hopefully it's clear to most people that I kind of go out of my way to consider and respect Korean culture as much as possible. There are a lot of things I won't get right the first time around, and a lot of things I won't always understand. But I can say I am honestly trying my very best.

MikejGrey said...

Blog drama.

I think it would be good If I should come with you to the vietnam. It'll be just like the Deer Hunter.

Chris in South Korea said...

I can't say I know everything about Korean etiquette - but your co-teacher does NOT need to join you on your vacation. You don't even need to explain it to her; wouldn't she figure out by your not telling her your plans / time of departure?