Friday, June 1, 2012

Starting with Lunch Time

I've been lacking in details on this blog.  Lacking in the details of day to day living in a foreign country. It does a great disservice to anyone who reads this blog and then imagines that living abroad is all glamour. Photos of Gyeongbok Palace, temples and korean barbecue (and the like) will continue to be posted, but for my own peace of conscience, I will start being more inclusive of everything I experience, the good and the not so good.

That being said, I thought the first thing I would write about is lunch time at my school because for me, it can feel like the most 'Korean' part of my day in many ways.  My school is small for being in Seoul.  We have just over 300 students and just under 40 staff members.  If I had to imagine working in a country school in Korea, I would imagine that it would be somewhat like my school.  I look outside one window and I face a green mountain, the other side is a massive dirt field.    The hallways are usually filled with running children who feel at ease with each other and with the teachers and run past saying "Hello, Teacher" or "Annyeonghaseyo" all day long.

My lunch time starts at 12:30, coming directly from a class, I usually end up being a little late.  I wait for my two co-teachers and we walk down five flights of stairs together (there's no elevator in our school), teachers stealing looks in the mirror as we pass one at the end of every floor.  We make our way down to the staff lunch room, where a large rectangular table sits that can fit about 12-14 teachers.  

In the front of the room are several large aluminum pots.  I grab a metal tray, a spoon and chopsticks and wait in line, first to put my side dishes, there are usually three, and two of the three usually consist of kimchi and something kimchied, then take the main dishes of rice (all variations) and some kind of soup.  It usually looks something like this:

I don't dread lunchtime, mostly because the food is pretty good and costs me just a little over $2 a meal. It gives me a chance to try out lots of Korean things that I never would try on my own, but the experience of sitting at a table with 12 of my Korean colleagues was at first a bit overwhelming.  I would hold my breath (who am I kidding, I still do) and pray silently that I would not end up in a seat near the principal.  He seems like a nice enough man, mind you, but you can feel his power.  He is the principal.  And people tiptoe around him and laugh politely at everything he says. I might be the one person in the school that he is a bit afraid of though, because when I'm there, there is that reminder that English could be spoken and isn't.  He, like most teachers, won't address me directly, usually through one of my two co-teachers translations.  Most Koreans know some English, but at school they are afraid to use it.  Sometimes I think more afraid of what their colleagues will think of their English than what I will.   I've had a few teachers brave talking to me (never at lunch), and I'm so grateful when they do, but its rare, and usually if no one else is around.  But for the most part, we stop at "Good Morning." or "Annyeonghaseyo".

Do I think they should or have to speak English with me? No.  
Does that make it uncomfortable sitting at lunch together every day, day in and day out? Yes.

So as a result, I usually eat my lunch in silence and stare up at the big screen TV and watch the Korean News and if the conversation goes on especially long that day, I get to watch parts of a Korean Drama. I usually have no idea what is going on, but fawning interest in that is a lot easier than pretending I know what is going on in the conversation around me.

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