Sunday, March 15, 2009

Welcome to I-dong High School!

On Wednesday the school threw a dinner party for the new teachers at I-dong high school, myself included. (I was informed about the party Wednesday afternoon; luckily my schedule is pretty open these days.) Just about all 60+ of the teachers came, but I can only assume that a few stayed behind to monitor the students, who stay at school studying until 10pm or later.

The school set up a banner honoring the new teachers at the restaurant, which was really nice. It was funny to see everything in Korean except "Jonny."

We ate at a local traditional place where you grill your own meats over a charcoal fire, dip them in sesame oil and fermented soybean paste (delicious) and wrap it in a lettuce leaf. We took over the place for the celebration, and spent several hours grilling and eating meat and lettuce wraps, drinking soju, and laughing.

No one stayed in their seats for very long; everyone was wandering around taking shots with everyone else. Koreans have a custom of offering shots to, well...anyone, really, but especially to their elders and superiors. Everyone has their own shot glass for soju, and it is a show of respect to offer your own glass to your principal, for example, and to pour him a shot in it. He will drink it and offer another shot to you in the same glass. Sharing glasses is a sign of respect and friendship (communicable diseases be damned!), and I was happy to indulge.

I took my shot glass over to the principal, who smiled broadly and motioned for me to pour him a quarter shot. As the head of the school, and everyone's superior, he would be drinking a lot that night. After taking a drink from him, I offered my glass to the vice principal, who promptly put it down on the table and didn't touch it again for another 15 minutes. He wanted to talk instead - he was an English teacher himself many years ago, and although his language skills have rusted plenty since, he makes up for it with his youthful energy and his smile.

My participation in the tradition went over really well, and soon everyone was tipsy. Even the teachers who don't speak English were emboldened to sit next to me and pour me drinks and offer to take me fishing over the summer. The room was full of bonhomie, enhanced, of course, with soju and beer, and everyone had a great time.
Eventually word trickled down to me that we were carrying the party over to a noraebang (karaoke room), a popular post-dinner pasttime among Korean business associates and preteens alike. About half of the teachers showed up and we took over two rooms with singing and dancing and drinking in each. Some fruit and popcorn was set out on a table in the back of the room, and people floated constantly between rooms and to smoke cigarettes in the foyer.

No one seemed shy or complained about others' singing (even after I butchered 'Bohemian Rhapsody'!), and everyone got their turn - including my principal, who rocked the house with a conga line (see video).

I sang three songs and left before 10pm. It felt like 3 in the morning. I was told the next morning that the male teachers went out for another round of drinks (this was a Wednesday, remember), and as far as I know all of them showed up at school the next day, only slightly sluggish.

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