Class or no, if the boss wants to party, get in the moodOne of the toughest things for me to get accustomed to when I started working here is the Korean proclivity for staying out late on school nights. I was taught that a good night’s sleep was the best antidote for a hard day’s work. The idea of boozing it up until 3 a.m. when I had to teach a class early the next morning was pretty much unthinkable to me.
After working at a hagwon I found that the phrases “no thanks” or “not tonight” were incomprehensible to my boss and Korean co-workers. The prevailing sentiment was that when the boss wanted to party, everybody had to get into a festive mood. Since the director of our school was a burned-out, incompetent boor with a nagging wife and two incorrigible sons, he naturally wanted to spend as much time away from home as possible. So, he regularly invented reasons to spend a night out on the town.
We had a staff meeting at 9 p.m. every Thursday, and after the meeting it was pretty much a given that we would be prodded into going on a bender with the director. Knowing this was coming, and dreading having to go through the motions in my 7 a.m. business-English class with a hangover, I made a discreet exit just as the meeting was winding down and escaped to my walk-in closet ... er ... I mean apartment.
About an hour later someone knocked on my door. I opened it to find the hagwon director and staff holding bags full of beer and dried cuttlefish. Mmmm, cuttlefish.
They barged in, unfolded my tiny dining table and started popping bottle tops while I looked on in amazement. “Come on in,” I said.
Resigning myself to the fact that they weren’t going to leave anytime soon, I decided to have a beer. The next thing I knew there were about 20 empty bottles of Hite strewn across my floor. I realized that I had to be in the classroom in two hours.
“So,” the director said, “it’s no use going to sleep now. It will just be too hard to get up. Let’s go out and get something to eat.”
“Okay,” I yawned.
All six of us hit the streets looking for someplace to chow down. I looked at my watch ― 5:15 a.m. I thought, I’m going to want to kill myself tomorrow ... I mean today.
After wandering around for about 20 minutes we finally found a place serving just what the hagwon director wanted: gamjatang, a spicy stew with potatoes and a pig’s spine simmering in it. Mmmm, pig’s spine.
Just about the time the stew arrived I looked up from my spot on the floor to find all four students from my 7 a.m. class standing in the doorway.
“Teacher!” one of the guys shouted (at the top of his lungs). “Are we having class here?”
“Well,” I said, “we’re here, but I don’t know if we have any class.”
by Dylan Alford
Mr. Alford teaches high school in Seoul.