Friday, July 4, 2008

The continuing adventures of Diana and Sarah in Korea...

This is the stuff of which memories are made:

While Sarah* was here, my swing club (스윙과 사람, Swing and People) went on an MT. MT is a Korean thing, but yes, it is an abbreviation for "membership training" (don't we love the Konglish-izing of this country?).

You see, Korean high school students are so burdened with studies that they usually don't have time to do the fun things that we get to do in America, like join clubs and go to proms and such things. As a result, your average Korean high school graduate is VERY REPRESSED and has lots of pent-up sexual and social energy that needs to be released. So college is very laid-back here and most people join lots of social clubs in college.

These clubs take full advantage of university-sponsored week-long holidays to go out to the mountains and drink and hook up. Or go to the beach--and drink and hook up. Or something like that. They call this "MT."

I'm being cynical here. The importance of group dynamics and bonding is actually something very important in Korean culture. Most Koreans will put the group before the individual, which leads to sometimes beautiful acts of friendship and sometimes nearly tragic moments of martyrdom. Americans have similar notions--taking a trip to Canada with your friends for spring break or renting a beach house for a week when you graduate--it's just more organized in Korea.

For our MT, we went "camping" (I put that in quotes because we stayed in a minbak, or cheap boarding house, with cooking facilities and functional plumbing) in Gampo, a small beach town east of Gyeongju. It was really like an adult field trip! The weather was rainy and miserable for most of the trip (at the beach on Sunday, more than one person had their umbrella turned inside out by the wind), but the company was mostly fun, and I had a fantastic time. Gong Bi cooked traditional Korean food for us (which was very exciting--Leah called him a "kitchen bitch" and then tried to translate that, which was just too bizarre to explain) and we danced and talked and drank until the wee hours of the morning.

However, the most exciting part of this trip was peeing.

Let me explain. Somehow, it took us almost 5 hours to drive to Gampo. It doesn't take 5 hours to drive the entire length of the country of South Korea, so how a city less than 60 km outside Daegu took that long to drive, I still have no idea. Along the way, we stopped frequently to pick up drinks and snacks. Stupidly, I forgot to also use the facilities.

So when Joey and Gong Bi were hunting for the "perfect" minbak (it took them about 20 tries and over an hour--but to their credit, they found an excellent one in the end), Leah, Sarah, and I really had to pee. We went into one of the minbaks Joey had decided against and asked to use their facilities, but like most minbaks, they only had bathrooms in the guest rooms. She motioned around back. We thought this meant we might find an outhouse there.

We were wrong. But man, did we have to pee.

Sarah, Leah, and I looked at each other. It was one of those epic moments in burgeoning friendships from which you know there is no turning back. If we did what we were all thinking, our relationships with each other would never be the same again. The hesitation was brief--the next second we had dropped trou and were peeing in a bush around the backside of the building.

Just as we were finishing, Sarah looks between her legs.

"Um... I think there's a guy in the field."

"Are you serious?" Sure enough Leah looks out and there is some 60 year old Korean farmer, jaw to the floor, staring at our bared, squatting bums.

It was difficult to pull up my pants, I was laughing so hard. "We can never tell anyone about this, ever," I say as we climb back into the car, still hysterical.

"Are you kidding," says Sarah. "We'll tell everyone by the end of the night."

"And I can't wait to read about it on your blog," Leah reminds me.

I loosen up a bit. By the end of the trip, I notice Sarah is right (with the aid of soju, of course) and that this is the stuff of memories. This is the kind of daily stupid adventure that I'm missing out on with Sarah by living in another country. And I realize that in Korea, I get to have them all the time, but back home I only ever had them with a few special people--the friends close enough to pull me out of myself for half a second and make me have fun in spite of my general fuddy-duddiness and prudery. And Sarah has always been one of the best at doing that.

* Please note for clarity that in this post that references to Sarah, as they usually are in this blog, mean my sister, not my friend here in Korea who is also a member of swing club and was on this trip.

To see more pictures of Sarah and I at random throughout Korea, I have uploaded them on a facebook album. I usually only post pictures through my blog that are more "artistic" or at least photojournalistic in nature. Facebook is for ridiculous photos of people, sometimes in various states of intoxication. So they exist for your amusement.


  1. Hi Diana,

    I recently came across your blog, and just wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading about your experiences in Korea. Since I was in the 7th grade I've wanted to teach English in Korea, after hearing about a friend of the family who had done it, and having a half-Korean best friend helped get me interested in the culture and language. Now that I've finally received my bachelor's degree I have begun doing my research, and hope to be in Korea teaching sometime in the next year or two (although I'm not sure where yet... I haven't decided on a city).

    The reason I have been enjoying your blog so much is that you are actually experiencing Korea -- something I want to do. A lot of the other blogs I've found are by people who are there for the money (and the drinking), not to experience the language, the people, or the places. It had me a bit disheartened, until I found your blog. You've even inspired me to possibly give TKD a try, as I've never been a "sporty" type either. :)

    I cannot wait to hear more about your Korean adventures! If you ever feel like chatting, feel free to e-mail me at jen.wilhelm{at} Kam sa ham ni da!

  2. Wow Jennifer! Thanks so much for posting. I hope that my blog does give folks coming to Korea who want more than an extended frat party some ideas that an exciting life here is possible. I have learned a lot about Korea, myself, and the world by keeping an open mind. I've lucked into a lot of things--finding some of the right people at just the right times--but it's also about keeping an open mind and looking for those opportunities. So many foreigners come here with blinders on and their eyes closed so tight they only see what they want to see. Korea is not all a happy, sunshine-y place (for example, I have never in my life been treated worse by men who want to have sex with me than I have here), but I do love it for so many reasons and I'm staying at least one more year.

    Good luck! Do your research and stay in touch.

  3. Hi Diana,

    Thanks for your response. :) I do have one question for you, if you don't mind... when does the Korean school year begin? I figure that would be the most obvious time to go, although from what I've read, many schools want foreigners to come at all points throughout the year (to replace teachers who leave, I suppose). If possible I'd like to go after Christmas of this year (new year, new start!), but we'll see. The hardest part about doing all this will be leaving my job because I hate disappointing people, and they've been so good to me. However, I need to start doing things for myself and not others, or I'll never be able to do anything I want. Now I just need to get the courage. :) Thanks so much... and I hope you're staying cool (or trying to).



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