Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm not even surpised....

When you first arrive in Korea you are literally assaulted by a sense culture shock.  When you are visiting and staying in the major cities it is not as bad, but when you come here to live the culture shock can be quite intense.  I tell most the new arrivals that I meet that it will take them about 3 months before they begin to feel comfortable operating and working in this environment.  Luckily over time the culture shock wears away slowly but surely.  When I first arrived here I thought there was no way that I would ever be able to have conversations in Korean or talk to people whose English skills weren't in the top 5% of the country.  Boy was I wrong. 

For all intents and purposes, as you may expect given how long I have been here, I have been Koreanized.  However, what started as myself dealing with culture shock has now given way to something that is the exact opposite, reverse culture shock.  No longer am I surprised about Korea, but Koreans who I have never met are surprised by me.  It comes in many different forms, sometimes it's simply talking in Korean, or participating in activities with my school.  Other times though, it can be quite memorable.  This week was one of those times, and if I said it was the first time it had happened to me here it would be a complete lie.  However, this one is perhaps the most entertaining.

It happened on Wednesday when I was eating dinner with my school's volleyball team.  There are thirteen men at my school and we (with some female teachers) play volleyball every Wednesday.  After 5 the female teachers leave us and we play a few more games that will last to anywhere between 6 P.M. and 9 P.M.  Afterward, we normally head off to a restaurant to grab some dinner.  Recently my school has been going and getting 영양탕 (Korean pronunciation young yang tong) or nutrition soup is the rough translation of it.  In reality it is dog or chicken soup, my school prefers dog.  Well on Wednesday we went to a restaurant to grab some soup and some braised dog meat.  We have eaten at this restaurant a few times before and the staff doesn't think it's weird that I eat there.  However, this week when we went there, there were two older ladies who had not seen me eat there before.

As the meal progressed one of the women realized that I was eating dog.  This was the quite a shock to her as she had assumed that foreigner were either unable to eat it (due to allergies or something) or unwilling to eat it.  She proceeded to walk over to our table and ask a male teacher sitting next to me if I knew what I was eating and if I liked it.  I understood enough of what she said and answered in Korean that it tasted good and that I liked dog.  This was my first mistake of the evening.  About five minutes later our table asked for some more kimchi to be brought and the same woman noticed that I was eating kimchi.  To this she was very surprised because she had apparently never seen a foreigner who liked kimchi before.  She asked me if I liked it and I told her that it was good and that I enjoy it.  Well apparently this was too much for because she ran off to the kitchen to talk to one of the other ladies there who had apparently made the kimchi.  Next thing I know the two ladies have emerged from the kitchen with several other things for me to try.  After each one they asked me if I like the food and pretty much every time I said yes (sensing a theme yet?). 

As if this wasn't enough we had closed out the restaurant but were still there finishing up the last of our drinks.  The one woman realized that I was drinking soju.  This inspired her to see if I'd ever had makeoli (mock o li).  Which if she knew how long I'd been in Korea is just a stupid question.  Generally when you go out with your school you drink one of three things: soju, beer, or makeoli.  These three are considered the holy trinity of Korean alcohols.  At this time she has been embolden by the fact that I have not gone running for the hills yet and decides that not only should I try makeoli, but I must do a love shot of the stuff with her.  For those that don't know a love shot means drinking a drink with another person with your drinking arms interlocked.  I feel the need to also explain that a love shot can be done with anyone.  A guy with another guy, a girl with another girl, a father with a daughter, etc.  After the shot we get up to go.  I guess I should also state that all the male teachers from my school are laughing and enjoying the spectacle of this.  As we stand up to leave the woman asks for a hug which I gave her and then proceeds to touch my goatee.  This is also something that happens more than you'd think. 

After we pay we are headed out the doors and my co-teachers are trying to lock me in the restaurant with these older women.  As I told you, they were loving every minute of this spectacle, because they have all told me before several times that I'm 1/2 Korean.  The worst thing about all of this, is that these ladies had never experienced anything like this before, but for me, it was routine.  I'm not surprised anymore when some randomly asks me to drink with them because they have never drank with a foreigner before, or when someone asks me about Korean food.  It has happened so many times to me now that it's just part of life, but for them, it's reverse culture shock.  It blows their mind that foreigner could actually enjoy all these things.  I guess I'm breaking down barriers, but honestly, if I could make one request, at least make the women around my age so I can get a phone number and maybe a date out of it. 

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