One of the perks about teaching in a small school here, similar to the size of the school I taught in back home, is that there is a focus on building relationships among the faculty through gatherings and retreats. I am lucky enough to be included in these small outings. On most days I feel pretty isolated from the rest of my co-workers (minus my co-teachers) because of the language barrier, but after going on special trips outside of school with them I feel a special bond. Sharing the experiences and Korean culture with them is something we can both cherish.
Yesterday the school took a mini-retreat to Muuido (무의도), which is an island off of Incheon, a city which is on the western coast of Korea and home of the Intl’ airport. Incheon is about 40 minutes from my school. We took a bus to Incheon and then the bus got onto a 5 minute ferry that took us to the island. This was my second time coming to this island. I had two options: walk around the beach or hike up Horyungguk Mountain (호룡곡산). Since I had already seen the beach I opted for the hike. The weather was absolutely gorgeous (dare I say this in front of my CT peeps back home who just got a foot of snow), but it was almost 70 degrees and sunny. The hike took about one hour but it was very steep so some parts were very rocky and difficult to climb up. The view at the top was amazing. You can see the ocean for miles around you. Korea’s rocky coasts gives you many opportunities to get the best of both worlds in terms of mountains and beaches. It felt so nice to get out of the city and enjoy the fresh smells of pine trees and fallen leaves. I was probably a week late for the foliage but the bare trees gave me a nice view of the ocean surround me.
After enjoying a nice hike we were all ready to eat. When you go to Muuido there is only one thing to eat. Seafood! Fried shellfish, boiled shrimp, octopus, sea squirts, spicy seafood soup, you name it, they have it, and it’s as fresh as you can get it. I had eaten seafood a few times in Incheon before and had always ordered the fried shellfish. It is very expensive and usually does not come with any side dishes. This time the experience was much different. We arrived at the restaurant and they already had tables set up and reserved for us. There were dozens of side dishes already prepared. The first course was the fried or boiled shellfish. This is normally more than enough. After eating my fill of shellfish another huge plate of raw fish was put out on every table. And to top it off soup, noodles, and rice were also served. I don’t think anyone had ever eaten as much great seafood as we did last night. The cost for this food was pretty steep. It cost about $120 for each table of four people and there were about ten tables. (For Korean standards this is very expensive. Normally you can eat a full course meal for $5). We all contribute monthly to a fund for eating out, but this was much more extravagant then the normal outing. The school generously covered the rest of the bill. After eating the drinking rituals began. Apparently my new vice principal is a good drinker because he went around several times doing shots of soju with every single faculty member. The more you can drink the higher status you have in Korea (for men thankfully). I respectively drank my two shots and stopped there. On the bus ride home more alcohol went around. I had to take a shot of this ginseng alcohol mixed with wild strawberry juice. It sounds good but the taste was strong. It tasted like pure alcohol, but I drank it with a smile and the vice principal was very happy. After all of that I was ready for a good night sleep.