My second month in Korea began with a new term at work – terms are monthly – which means new classes, new students and new material to teach. And of course, being the original branch of a highly successful, nationally-renowned language college, my school had the month’s schedule totally organised and ready well in advance. A good 15 hours before class began, that is.
I got to work late, as it was raining, and I had spent only 20 hours in my apartment from Friday to Sunday – quite a weekend, don’t ask – meant that I arrived 5 minutes before class started, and was told that my first class “doesn’t have a textbook so just give them newspaper articles and discussion questions.” Fantastic – 5 minutes of high speed pedagogical creativity and a lightning sprint to the fifth floor, and the students never knew that I was flying first-class courtesy of By the Seat of His Pants Airlines all morning.
After that horrible start, it’s been a great teaching week.This month my schedule is slightly more human: instead of waking up at 5:40 every morning and getting home at 10:30 every evening, I now wake up at 5:40 every morning and every second day I get home by 8:30 in the evening. It’s not much but it feels like Christmas and birthday wrapped in a Bah mitzvah. The students are good too and I have a great mix of different classes.
Split-shift hours seem inhuman, but I get a large break in the middle of the day, which I occupy meeting friends, studying Korean – badly – and sleeping – soundly. It’s generally not so bad, I am young and strong and secretly enjoy the punishment, but it’s tiring. At least one night a week I flop down on the bed and my lead-heavy brain is so fatigued it drops right out of my head, crashes through the pillow, mattress and floor into the apartment below, landing on my neighbour’s kitchen table, right in a bowl of kimchi soup, and I sleep black, dreamless oblivion until morning. The neighbours generally leave the chilli-stained brain outside their door and I scoop it up on the way to the bus.
My work hours make living with my ghoulish prisoner of a housemate much more bearable – he’s asleep when I get up and when I get home. Actually, come to think of it, I’m not sure if he ever changes sleeping positions – his feathery mullet-mop is always poking above the sheets, one effeminate leg sticking out awkwardly. If it weren’t for the fact that the washing gets done everyday, I’d say he was dead. Dead or alive, his material and spiritual impact on the world is negligible. This blog might be his greatest epitaph, and he’ll never read it.
On the more pleasant topic of food and friends, I was very fortunate on Wednesday to be invited to lunch at a Korean friend’s house. It was only my second time inside an actual Korean apartment – current accommodation disqualified due to sheer abnormality – and thankfully this time, I wasn’t violently ill in their bathroom once (or twice, like last time).
The whole family was there, including father, mother and grandmother. We ate on the floor over a tiny square table completely covered in bowls of rice, kimchi, fried anchovies, beef, noodles, soup, chillis, sauces and side dishes. It was one of the most satisfying meals – culturally and digestively – in my 23 years of continuous and, at times adventurous, eating.
I was welcomed into their home with the utmost generosity and affection, plus a healthy dose of curiosity. After all, I was the first foreigner to ever set his over-sized feet into their nice but tiny home. My friend served as translator, although her mum has been studying English online, and managed to say a few words, and even a finite clause at one point! My rubbish semi-conversational Korean was put to the test and it was so much fun. Even though I occasionally used a totally inappropriate informal verb ending, the Korean equivalent of casually responding to my friend’s grandmother with ‘hell yeah, dude.’ Of course they were just happy to hear me say ‘delicious’ so many times, and in their own tongue.
Apparently they were really nervous about everything prior to my arrival, asking my friend in a panic – ‘does he like spicy food?’ ‘will he fit on our floor?’ and ‘is he really dead keen on salted anchovies with peanuts?’ Lovely people – they loaded me up with bags of food as I left, and I’ve been eating superb traditional home-cooked Korean lunches at work everyday since, my Korean co-workers shooting me puzzled yet envious glances.
So every week things are getting better and better here in Korea – aside from the last-minute scheduling and the hours, which will improve as the busy season subsides. Alex – that wild traveling man – is coming to Seoul this weekend, an Australian surprise I wasn’t expecting so early into my time over here. Planning an overnight express trip/night out to Busan in August too, and hopefully I can get to Tokyo for the last four days of the month. Busy doesn’t even begin to describe it.