Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Drinking, Debauchery and Teaching English
ESL teachers are usually a pretty debauched lot. There's always a wet sponge thrown in amongst them, as there is in any group (I've even met a righteous, high-and-mighty stripper), but for the most part ESL teachers are irrisponsible, heavy drinking, sin-filled individuals. They are on permanent vacation.
The ESL expat community in South Korea was no different. In fact, I really honed my drinking skills in South Korea and brought them to dizzying heights. Realizing that the expat life was turning me into a soju-and-beer-(and-rye-and-wine-and-vodka)-filled shell of my former self, I made the decision to return to Canada at the end of my second year, and not continue on to Taiwan as I was originally planning.
Oh, the horror...the horror...actually I still laugh at it all.
The ESL expat community in South Korea is made up of people from every English-speaking country in the world. Americans, Australians, Brits, Canadians, Irish, New Zealanders, Scots...and one South African. The resulting jumble of slightly-different cultures all hanging out and drinking heavily together means that I learned a fantastic array of drinking games, of which one, Titanic, is my favourite.
In the game of Titanic, there is a large pint of beer placed in the center of the table and an empty shot glass is floated in the middle. Everyone, in turn, attempts to poor a bit of vodka or soju or whatever into the shot-glass without sinking it. Whoever sinks it has to chug the whole beer. The more you lose, the worse you play and the more you continue to lose, at least in my experience.
So after a night of playing "Titanic" (and falling off the patio of the bar we were playing at) I had a kindergarten class to teach in the morning. It was a first class and the elementary school had rented an English teacher (me) from my director. I was supposedly really good with kids.
When I showed up at 8 am I was still hammered from the night before, but not in a fun and lovable way. The stairwell was spinning as the Korean principle showed me to my class. Inside were 20 or so 4 year olds staring at me with curious expressions.
I proceeded to do the old "No Speaka English" kindergarten routine of dancing around with them and keeping it active and trying to get them to communicate in words that closely resembled English, but on this day I was sweating profusely and my stomach started to contract and then crawl up my esophagus.
Without warning I knew I had to vomit and wouldn't make it to the washroom. The only thing around was their Korean teacher's garbage pail so I, in front of 20 wide-eyed Korean 4-year-olds, a Korean kindergarten teacher and the principle, grabbed the bucket and puked violently into it. It was one of those throwing-up sessions that start with a massive burst of chunky liquid but then develops into groaning dry-heaves and disgusting drips of bile.
I wiped my mouth with my forearm and proceeded to finish the class. I was never asked back.
It's no wonder Asians think of us as barbarians. We weren't good ambassadors from our countries.
One night a bunch of guys and I got smashed at a bar and...well, I really don't remember. I was woken up on a park bench by a jogging ajuma (grandmother) who was holding my ringing cell phone. My girlfriend at the time was calling and when she asked where I was I looked around and said "I don't know" The sun was up and birds were chirping and Koreans were walking dogs or jogging. The last I could remember was it being night and I was at a bar. I checked my pockets and everything was where it was supposed to be, including my kidneys (although, as a rule, I don't keep those in my pockets).
I found my way home and later on learned that one guy I was with woke up on the ground of a bus shelter surrounded by Korean high shcool kids in their uniforms. Another woke up in the doorway of a hagwon (an English school) that wasn't his, and the last woke up on an inter-city greyhound-like bus to a different town. As we were playing drinking games and drinking out of the same glass we all agreed that somebody must have dropped a roofy into our drink. At least we hoped so. The alternative, that we drank THAT much, was a scary thought.
The debauched life of an ESL-teacher expat is hard to sum up. I am honestly hoping that I'll be more responsible and professional in Russia. With a bit of luck I'll be as good an entertainer...er, teacher...as I was in Korea. Knowing my luck, however, and the fact that ESL teachers are all alike, I won't.