May 6, 2009

A Night out with the Co-workers

Korean school staffs take many lunch/dinner trips out. Some are paid by the principle, and some are split by one of the teachers at the table. Koreans don't go dutch. It's just not their style. Usually, in my experience, the person who makes the most money will foot the bill. Thankfully most lunches or dinners out will be at a barbecue joint, and the costs will never get too crazy.

The consumption of soju, on the other hand, does tend to get a bit crazy, especially at the dinners. Many foreign teachers will tell you that you haven't really communed with your school staff here unless you've hit the 'soj' with them at dinner. It's an awesome experience for the most part. People's lips get a bit looser, you'll hear English from people you had no idea spoke it, and merriment will genuinely be had by all. But don't assume that the fun ends with the bill, it almost never does.

Koreans know how to keep things going late into the night, and that almost invariably means noraebong (singing room). Have I discussed noraebong yet on this blog? If I haven't then that's a true crime. In brief, Koreans love noraebongs just as much as they love soju. These are not karaoke bars per se. They are enclosed rooms where you take a group and indulge in some private karaoke, plus the lyrics are shown on a wall-sized tv screen instead of a dinky 12-inch. It's very intense. Sometimes it's fun, but it's one very Korean thing I feel will always remain theirs, and probably theirs alone.

Anyway, you'll almost always hit the noraebong post-dinner. Everyone will be soused, and in a perfect place to belt out their favorite meladramatic Korean ballad. The presence of a lone foreigner is exciting because we bring the English hits to the fore. This is one case where my pseudo-music snobbery really hurts me. I always feel as if I can't lower myself to ripping a top 40 ballad, which is ofcourse what everyone wants. Furthermore, I'm usually pretty in the dark about the melody from most of these tunes. So sue me, I've never really been a top 40 guy. But this is the worst ramble in the history of this blog.

People are drunk at the noraebong, and usually secrets get told and bold moves get made. For example, I was told about a staff crush at my last Mipo elementary noraebong run. I never capitalized, but I certainly would have never been told in any other situation. It's like the noraebong doubles as a sacred space where you can say or do anything and it will go unjudged. I could really think for hours about the social implications/symbolism of the noraebong in Korean culture.

This whole post came to be because I read a facebook status from my friend Kerry which perfectly described a typical night like this. So after long last, here it is...

Kerry Maher > Sam Kuntz: We drank many alcohols at dinner! I think the competition mode was still in play after the volleyball game (side note: these are always a solid reason to hit the dinner/norae scene). After the two schools split up after dinner, our principal and vice-principal "commanded" we go to singing room and I ended up drinking "love-shots" with the vice principal. After THAT, we went to a hof and two teachers who have been flirting for six months finally took the plunge and.......held hands. Everyone was so happy for them.

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