Friday morning, I leapt out of bed (as opposed to my normal slug-like oozing) full of excitement and anticipation. Not only did I not have to teach my much-loathed after-school class, I was going on an adventure! In just a few hours, I would be joining 80 or so of my co-workers on a Teachers’ Trip to parts unknown.
The fact that I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going didn’t really bother me. In an odd way, it added to the excitement. I had asked at school where we were going but hadn’t really understood the answer; my knowledge of Korean geography isn’t exactly stellar. I had one of my co-teachers write the location down so I could google it. Trying to be helpful, she wrote it in Korean: 남해 거제 통영 한산도. It wasn’t helpful.
The weather on Friday was absolutely dismal. It had been raining hard all morning and flood warnings had been issued for low-lying areas around Ulsan. Not exactly an auspicious start to an adventure!
Once classes finished, we grabbed our bags and ran for the buses. There were two large fancy buses waiting for us and we filled them to bursting. The Teachers’ trip was not obligatory but it was strongly encouraged and so there were 85-90 teachers on our trip. Even the head lunch lady came!
I found a seat and settled in. The rain and humidity made the windows fog up, and the inside of the bus was cold and damp. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I excitedly cleared my window and peered out into the driving rain. I could barely sit still; I love adventures! I glanced around the bus, expecting the same sense anticipation and exhilaration to be reflected on my co-workers faces but everyone else seemed to be asleep. Apparently I was the only one with the emotional stability of a six-year-old.
The trip took about four hours along first major highways and then smaller country roads. We stopped for a rest about halfway. The rest stop had been designed so that people could take pictures of the famous suspension bridge we would be crossing to get to our mystery destination. The fact that it was raining too hard to see the bridge didn’t stop anyone from taking pictures!
* Koreans LOVE pictures. Every step of the journey must be documented. So, here we are in the parking lot, in the rain. These are the people in my staff room – 3 English teachers, 2 music teachers, 1 Art teacher, 2 PE teachers, and me.*
We arrived at the hotel at about 6:30pm. From what I could see through the pouring rain, it appeared we were on the coast. The hotel lobby was extremely fancy and I couldn’t wait to see the rooms. I also wondered who my roommate (s) would be. Would I have to share a double bed with a co-worker?
As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry. Clearly the hotel had spent all their money on the lobby. The hotel room was simply that – an empty room. There was a small kitchenette, one bar stool and a large flat screen TV. In the corner was a small pile of mats, blankets and pillows. It also had the most amazing blue velour curtains with gold tassels. I felt like I should be in a brothel in the Wild West!
Dinner was delicious. We all sat in a long row so it looked like we were sitting at a table for 100, rather than a bunch of tables pushed together.
* Some of it was even still moving. My mother taught me to be polite and try everything once. 🙂 The yellowish things and the gray things were gross. The pink things tasted delicious but it was a bit creepy that I could feel them squirming and squiggling for a little while after I swallowed them. *
Apparently the principal had been detained in Ulsan for a business meeting. He arrived just after the first course and everyone leapt to their feet to greet him with an enthusiastic (and more than likely alcohol-fueled) round of applause. Oh to be a Korean principal! 😀
The party progressed from there! * Korean style drinking! The Vice principal offers a drink (which can’t be refused!) and the lady accepts with two hands to be polite. They are drinking soju, the drink of choice for Koreans. It’s about 20% and tastes like nail polish remover. They drink it by the shot. Yowza. *
After the party was of course Karaoke, or Norebang as they call it here. There were so many of us, we needed three norebang rooms! We were divided by age; I made it into the “young” group by a year. Phew! 😀
By going back and forth between the rooms I managed to avoid singing. As anyone who has ever been to karaoke with me can attest, even at my best the nicest thing that can be said about my singing is that at least I choose short songs.
Towards the end of the night, just as I was about to duck out of the “old” room and head to the “middle-aged” room, the vice-principal spotted me.
“You!” he bellowed, rendered deaf by alcohol and the volume of the music. “You! Sing! Yes, yes!”
“No, no,” I replied, smiling and gesturing towards his ears. “Maybe you will cry and all the windows will break.”
“Yes! Sing!” he shouted firmly, pushing a song book into my reluctant hands.
I looked through it and was shocked to find a distinct lack of Carpenters. I always sing “On Top of the World.” It’s short, contains no really high or low notes, and people know it so they sing along and drown me out. This book contained lots of Olivia Newton-John, ACDC, the BeeGees, White Snake and Barry Manilow. What to do? Suddenly I spotted it: Honey Honey, by ABBA. I was saved.
I tried one last time to warn the VP that his eardrums were at stake but he grabbed the book and keyed ABBA into the machine. A few minutes later, I was up.
My voice, never spectacular at the best of times, gets raspy when I drink. Not cool Ella Fitzgerald husky but Louis Armstrong- I’m dying from acute laryngitis raspy.
The teachers, bless their little hearts thought there was something wrong with the karaoke machine. Everyone began fiddling with the buttons and my performance went from terrible to abysmal. As I “sang” the teachers’ argued over which buttons to press so suddenly the pitch of the song would change first up, then down, then way up until only dogs could hear me, and then down again.
Then someone decided that the problem must be with the speed, so the song was slowed down then sped up then sped up again.
I tried my best to sing through the continuous and sudden changes (high pitch, speed up, slow down, speed up, really low pitch, slow down, really high pitch etc.) until I noticed that the lyrics passing by me on the screen were wrong.
“I don’t want to hunt you baby,…” or “I heard about you bee four…”
I could barely finish the song, I was laughing so hard but everyone clapped and congratulated me. Ha!
Korean karaoke machines give you a score at the end of the song. My co-workers had been consistently scoring between 90 and 100 for every song. My score? (Drumroll please!) 3. 😀
We managed to make it to bed by about 3 a.m. Or should I say we made it to floor? The floor had been turned on while we were gone and by 3 a.m, it was nice and toasty. Or it was at 3am. By about 3:15, I was starting to feel sorry for any food I had ever put on the BBQ.
I tried laying on my back but any bit that stuck out a bit more than other bits (shoulder blades, elbows, heels, my enormous bottom…) became superheated by being pushed into the floor by the weight of my body. I kept having to flip over every 10-15 minutes, almost as if I wanted to make sure I was evenly roasted. It was a long night.
Incredibly, the first alarm went off at 6a.m. Even though we didn’t need to be down in the lobby for breakfast until 8:30. I guess everybody wanted to look their best.
Saturday we spent the day touring Tongyeong and eating local specialities. Tongyeong was the location of several famous battles won by the brilliance of Admiral Yi Sun Shin, inventor of the Turtle Ship. He is consistently voted the second most famous historical Korean, after King Sejeong the Great, inventor of the Korean alphabet. I wonder who the most famous historical Canadian would be?
After lunch we took a cable car to the top of a mountain. The terrifying ride was worth the view!!