Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The awkwardness of Korea

I've been quiet lately, and I've missed having something to write about. As of late, the cold weather and need to save every penny for home has meant fairly uneventful days here in Jecheon. We did go to the local Winter festival at Uirimji to walk on the frozen lake which was AWESOME! I felt a little uneasy at first but soon got caught up in the magic of sledding and 'chair skiing' around the ice, watching the ice-fishing and taking lots of pictures :) I'm off to Seoul this weekend with Nicola, and we have a jam packed weekend planned as it's probably the last time I'll be there and want to soak up as much as I can. I also have an appointment with one of Asia's best tattoo artists, San Lee at Tattoo Korea to get some ink to commemorate my year here. I'm excited!

My 2 weeks of Winter Camp are coming to an end tomorrow, and it's also the last day I'll be spending at Baegun. This makes me sad as I've grown to love a lot of these kids, and hope I can pop back in to say goodbye before I leave. Both camps have gone relatively well and although I'm relieved they're over, the prospect of about a month of desk warming here on out is doing nothing to help my Winter blues. I doubt I'll teach again until I leave, and with nothing productive to do for the hours on end I spend at my desk, I can literally feel myself losing my mind. Don't get me wrong - a day or 2 of desk warming during term time is much appreciated and anticipated. But days on end spent trying to look busy get old very quickly. And if like me you have some friends who get to finish early or don't have to go in to school at all, it's hard to keep the optimism up as they nap away their afternoons at home and you're stuck trying to digest the river snails you had for lunch and reminding yourself that you're getting paid for this ;) Thank goodness for sites like Imgur, BuzzFeed, Thought Catelog, Stumble Upon and Pinterest - they are awesome time wasters.

I plan on writing a few reflective posts during the up coming weeks, and thought I'd kick that off on a light - hearted note with a list of awkward experiences I have either had personally or have heard about from friends in Korea. We all have to deal with a certain amount of awkwardness in everyday life but there is something about being in a foreign country, especially one like Korea with all its quirks, that makes some mundane experiences that much more cringe-worthy. I'm going to keep all the stories anonymous and will try my hardest to give these stories the awkwardness they deserve. If you have any stories of your own, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section :)

1. No matter how many times you say "I don't speak Korean" IN Korean, the person confronting you wont stop talking to you like you know what's going on.

2. Getting into a taxi which starts driving before the driver knows where to go, and trying to explain as best you can where exactly you need to be. This sometimes results in a Korean lesson from the driver or Vice Principal.

3. The "I love you"s and "wow, beautiful"s you get from inappropriate people. Like the school bus driver.

4. Forgetting that you're in Korea and flushing your toilet paper down, only to have the toilet overflow, causing you to flee school and call your friend once home for advice before going back to try and explain the situation.

5. When anyone tries to feed you.

6. Using squatter toilets.

7. This story I heard about from Waygook: a male teacher was called aside by his co-worker who told him he has a "handsome bulge" (groin area) and it's "very good" but it makes some teachers and students uncomfortable. This story is my best.

8. When a woman on the bus LICKS your hair.

9. Being around when an ajjoshi decides to let rip in a BIG way.

10. Being burped in the face by an ajjuma while getting change for your cola.

11. Wondering aloud to your friends about whether or not the shop teller is a girl or a boy, only to have them say "me? I am girl" while you try remove the foot from your mouth.

12. Having students give you a massage.

13. When your co-teacher stares at the hair on your arm for a while, before rubbing it and saying "beautiful woman".

14. Trying to find cream for your heat rash only to be asked if you are Russian by the Pharmacist (as a girl, being Russian is usually related to being a prostitute). In fact, add to this anytime you're asked if you're Russian.

15. Having people stop what they're doing, turn around in their chairs, stop their cars or pull out their cameras because you are a foreigner. Often followed by many exclamations of surprise and disbelief.

16. School dinners where you're like the white elephant in the room (like, literally) that everyone is trying to avoid while you watch the Principal get so drunk he needs to be carried out.

17. Having to address staff or parents when you know they don't understand you or getting long speeches from the Principal in Korean.

18. Using a YouTube video to explain a concept to your 5th graders, only to have an incredibly inappropriate advert for women's underwear pop up when you close it. This happened twice. My kids nearly died, and so did I.

19. Trying to play Volleyball in front of ALL of your staff when you suck.

20. When students dance and gyrate inappropriately because that's supposed to be 'cute' and it's what their k-pop idols do.

21. Having to eat anything gross in front of people while trying to keep a straight face and not offend anyone. Cue pork stomach and seaweed soup experiences.

22. Buying the things that women need only to see a coworker at the till in front of you which of course causes you to flee in the opposite direction.

23. When Koreans do what they do best: talk about you in front of your face but you have no idea what they're saying. It's worse when there's laughter.

24. Having the bus driver at school tell you constantly he loves you and you must take him home with you (to South Africa, not bed. I think). He has a weird finger thing which makes this more awkward, and more creepy.

25. When you drop your chopsticks at school. Don't let them see your weakness. For heaven's sake don't drop the chopsticks!

26. When girls are asked if they are 'cold', usually in Summer, implying that your neck line is too low. Or any comments on your body parts/clothing/love life/blood type deemed appropriate by the the offending (emphasis on the offending) individual.

For the OCD in all of you, I know there should be an even number of points and that would be great but alas I cannot think of anymore now. There are plenty other moments, like trying to order anything at a new restaurant, but these were my top awkward moments experienced or heard about in Korea.

If there's one thing this wonderful place has definitely given me, it's an endless supply of stories.


  1. "Handsome bulge" I cried with laughter. Nice one friend this is an awesome post. Your writing is as ever entertaining and well executed. Big ups! Wishing you not-too-many awkward moments ahead. :)

  2. Being invited to casual dinners with some of the staff, then not being talked to (feels just like the school dinners, but more awkward).