I’m back, people.
I’m not here to talk about Christmas and all that – although mine was nice and I hope yours was too. Especially for those expats in Korea who feel glum at the general lack of Christmas cheer here compared to, say, America.
But today, my friends, we are talking about 회식*. A bookend post, if you will, to complement the one I wrote so very long ago, at the start of the semester.
*회식 (hweshik): A basically mandatory company/staff dinner. Usually accompanied by one, two, or all of the following:
- “Round 2” (second drinking/karaoke location)
- “Round 3” (third drinking/karaoke location)
- Shared hangovers the next morning at work
I’m extremely lucky in that my school is the classy mature one that goes out for a quiet dinner, with Chilsung Cider (Korean Sprite) as the main beverage, and wraps it all up within an hour and a half. Little alcohol, no hangover, and for heaven’s sake no singing.
This was a bookend 회식 of sorts, after all. We had one to ring in the new school year, and today we had one to bid it farewell (or perhaps just to say “good riddance, took you long enough to be over”).
This was a main school dinner, and I worked at my small school today, so my main co-teacher picked me up after work. We went to a sushi and pasta buffet place, which was perfectly okay with me. I’m totally up for Korean food, but knowing that I’d be able to A) choose my own foods and B) not sit on the floor was a plus.
I’ve reached that awkward stage of language learning where I can garner meaning from about 50-80% of the conversation around me (provided there’s a little context and/or they’re about simple everyday things like school, family, food, etc), but don’t have the grammar / vocabulary / courage to contribute.
Tonight, there were quite a few conversations revolving around my school transfer next year. My co-teacher had to keep explaining how I really really wanted to stay with my main school, but the Office of Education’s decision was non-negotiable.
Then there was a weird moment when one of the head teachers sat down and talked with my co-teacher for a good long while. He was talking about me, and then about the previous native English teachers at the school:
Him (in Korean): “Anna*, and what was his name…”
My co-teacher (in Korean): “Hmm, what was it…”
Them (in Korean, barely noticing my helpful interruption): “Ah, Jake*!” (continuing their conversation)
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Kidding, but it seems like the right thing to do.
Seriously, though, they talked for a long time, blah blah blah Madeleine Teacher, blah blah blah Anna and Jake Teachers, blah blah blah… and after all of that, when he walked away, my co-teacher said, “He said he wants to invite you to his home to tutor his daughter.”
Ha. Ha ha ha.
If he wants to pay me for it, it’s illegal. Public school NET contracts explicitly state that there are NO tutoring-on-the-side type jobs allowed. You work for the Korean government, and that’s it.
And if he thinks I’m going to do it for free… well, sorry, dude, but no.
Also, I’m not even going to be working for his school in a few months’ time!!
But I politely smiled and said, “Maybe,” and my co-teacher said, “If you don’t want to, I can tell him.”
She gets me.
Also, there’s no way that that’s all he said during that lengthy conversation, but guess I’ll have to let that one go.
After two buffet plates (and a beer which was kindly forced upon me by the same head teacher. oh, how I hate beer), I was beyond full. My co-teacher and I made eye contact like Let’s get out of here. Our two tablemates had already gone. (Instead of all sitting at an enormously long, low table, which is Korean style dining, we had scattered throughout the back area of the restaurant in groups of 4, 8, and 12.)
Just then, the principal walked up to my table. I hastily pushed away the beer, not really sure if it’s better to be seen drinking or not drinking or maybe just placing a casual hand on the glass as if to say “Yeah, I might drink a little” or maybe – oops, too late, he was upon us.
This principal is fond of practicing his English with me. He and I have been kinda like buddies this year. (As much as that is even possible within the Korean hierarchy. My being a foreigner helps break the hierarchical barriers a bit.)
Principal: “Maddy, you know something? We must eat four plates.”
Me: “Oh. Really?” (Then, as he walked away beckoning me to follow, I realized what he meant. Then I wondered how he knew I’d eaten three plates, if you counted the plate of fruit and dessert that my tablemates and I shared. Then I wondered whether that’s creepy stalking or just pure chance. And then I felt the food pushing against the inside of my stomach and thought about how awful it would be to add another mouthful of sushi to that bloated feeling. And then I realized he was coming back to see why I wasn’t following him.
Principal: “Maddy, did you understand me? We must eat four plates. Come with me.”
Co-teacher (in a desperate attempt to save me, awesome person that she is): “Oh, she’s full…”
Principal: *ignoring our plebeian desires*
Me (to my co-teacher as I got up from the table): “Oh no…”
The principal led me to the buffet line. “Ladies first,” he said. I took a plate, and just as I turned to the rows and rows of sushi and wondered just how much he expected me to eat for this mandatory fourth plate, he said:
“Maddy. We tried really hard to stop your transfer. But they said, ‘What’s done is done.’ Do you understand me?”
I understood. And then I understood that it was not about the fourth plate at all, but about wanting to tell me, privately, that he did want me to stay and he did try to make that happen. And that was confirmed when I watched him wander about the line, put nothing on his plate, and then go back to the table.
(Honestly, I’m not sure why he couldn’t have told me with my co-teacher there, but nevertheless I appreciate his effort, dramatic though it may be.)
And then I went back to the table, and my co-teacher and I dashed out of there super quick, before anyone else could make us eat any more food or drink any beer or goodness knows what else.
All in all, it was a bit of a strange evening, but when I was dropped off at my door by 6:45 p.m. and was in my pajamas 5 minutes later, I can’t really complain.