What a fantastic little trip. We sat through literally half an hour's worth of ppt presentation, which I strained to understand in Korean and, from what I could gather, was mostly about how our system here is about to change drastically in favor of a more Western system (ie, the students will move from class to class, rather than the teachers going to them -- a major downplay of the homeroom heavy system which, at middle school age, I'm actually very much in favor of) and how to manage putting the students on "track" learning, meaning dividing them out by level of ability and comprehension. I'm in favor of all of this at the high school level, and divided on how I feel about level learning at middle school still, but I really hate to see the homeroom system go, in middle schools. I think the students need that sense of guidance still, at that level, and the comfort that comes with the homeroom system. But, even though the other teachers asked my opinion after the meeting, knowing that I know the pros and cons of both systems better than they do (being a product of the Western system myself), it really has absolutely nothing to with what I have to say about things. For more than one obvious reason.
We climbed mountains and saw temples -- how shocked are you to hear that? But I really enjoyed the temples we visited this time. One was what Coteacher called "the headquarters" of Cheontae Buddhism in Korea -- Guinsa. It was fucking massive, with its own post office and bus stop -- basically, a small city. I asked Coteacher how old it was, but she didn't know. Apparently, it was built in 1945, and construction is going on even today.
After the temple, we returned to the town below the mountains to positively gorge on dwaeji galbi marinated in a bright red sauce I'd never seen before -- indigenous to the area, of course. At dinner, the principal summoned me over to his table so he could pour a drink for me. I think I've gone into this before, but in Korea, pouring drinks for others is not a casual task. I knelt in front of him and held my glass with both hands while he poured, then turned my head away and covered my mouth to take the shot. I shook what was left of the alcohol out of the glass into an empty dish, wiped the rim on my sleeve and handed it back to him with both hands, lifting up on my knees to pour for him with both hands. Before he took his shot, he held it up to me to clink with my cider glass, shouting, "Cheers!"
After he took his shot, he told me in Korean, with a little help from one of my co-teachers (old man Korean is extremely hard for me to understand, still -- they speak in low, rattling voices and their words run into each other) that I had done extremely well adjusting to Korean culture. A head teacher interrupted him to tell him how much gochujang I had poured into my bibimbap at lunch, as though to support his point. He told me he was proud of me and happy to have me at the school. Also, some vaguely offensive comments about how small my face has become, which my co-teacher refused to translate, not that I needed it. He calls me "우리 엘리자베스 선생님" -- "our Elizabeth teacher" -- which makes me smile every time I hear it. Whereas the other teachers, with the exception of the PE teachers who seem to have made some kind of comfort jump with me, can't stop calling me "원어민 샘", which (in Korean) is respectful, I like hearing someone use my name, especially with the warm Korean "우리" coming before it -- as though somehow Korea has claimed me now.
We went back to the hotel to gather in a circle on the floor, where we ate dried squid and played a ridiculous card game called, as best I could gather, Vietnam Bomb. I won mancheon won, which the principal shouted over to our table this morning should have made my breakfast taste sweet, not bitter.
Then, today it was a cave near a shooting range, where apparently some of our students managed to steal a gun on their fieldtrip last year, which made the teachers tsk with shame at returning to the scene of the crime. We were also warned vehemently to mind our heads by the head teacher while inside, due to the fact that literally over a dozen of the students had to make a group trip to the hospital afterward. Morons.
Another temple in Yeongju, where the VP explained to me in Korean something about how the architecture is atypical for Korea. He used a phrase that in Korean means something like "bloated belly" to describe the columns, which were slightly rounded.
My favorite rest stop walnut "cake" and then home. All the snow has melted, and even now my back door is bravely slid open to let the fresh air in. It's nearly spring. I guess you could say, I fell back in love with Korea, or came out of my slump. Or whatever it was. But look at this shit -- how could I not?