Well-trained

I survived Membership Training. If anything I got off too easy. A ride became available around 12:30 am and I took it… just about the time I was starting to enjoy myself.

It turned out to be a day-long affair. We went out to lunch at a restaurant in Dalmaji Hill called “House on the Hill” to celebrate a colleague’s promotion to associate professor. It was a nice sunny day, so we ate out on a spacious terrace with a beautiful view of the bay. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom, so afterward we walked around the hill and wandered among the pink and white trees. We finally walked up to a high viewpoint where we could see far into the distance.

View of Busan from Dalmaji Hill

Cherry blossoms on Dalmaji Hill

From there we went to Beomosa Temple. I was here about a year ago for Buddha’s birthday. At that time it was packed and festive, with lanterns hanging all around the complex. This time was just the opposite: virtually empty, with only a handful of worshipers and just as many monks wondering around.

Beomosa Temple, April 2008

By this time it was around 5 pm, so we made our way to Geumjeong, where the MT was being held. This is one of those Busan sites I’d yet to visit. We hiked along the old fortress wall leading to one of Busan’s fortress gates. We continued down into the village and I heard some traditional drumming. I asked a colleague what it was and he said it was probably a religious ceremony. I had to check this out, so we all walked in the direction of the drumming. When we arrived I saw two huge dead pigs with massive old blades and spears meant to hack the poor thing apart. Inside the old house was a woman dressed in traditional clothes. Her eyes were closed and she was twitching a little and seemed to be talking to no one. A colleague of mine said “she’s obsessed.” “You mean possessed?” I asked. She apparently had another spirit inside her and was speaking through the spirit. The Koreans seemed to be getting uncomfortable and kind of freaked out, so we didn’t linger long. I wish I could have taken pictures of the pigs and the goings on there, but I didn’t have the guts to pull out my camera.

It was time for dinner, so we opted for the local specialty, black goat bulgogi. It was a little on the chewy side but really tasty. The head professor is quite an alcohol alchemist, and he made a soju/maekju ‘kiss’ with the two bottles, combining the two together. It was very impressive. A little later we were served boiled chicken. I was told this is different from the chicken you normally get in Busan; rather than living in cages, these chickens are raised in the village farms. It was damned tasty.

Soju and maekju swap spit.

Then, finally, it was time to go to MT. We arrived in the middle of the student theatrical performances. I use that term not knowing what else to call it. During the day, students gather in groups to work out skits, dances, and singing performances at night. It’s all comedic, and apparently the whole point is to cajole the freshman into making total fools of themselves. On that level, it works brilliantly, and the students love it. I’d seen it all before, but our new foreign professor from Germany turned to me, a shocked look on his face, and said “What planet am I on?”

At one point, the show stopped and all faculty was led to the stage. We all lined up and the students went absolutely rockstar crazy, screaming and cheering. At one point they all chanted my name. I was completely embarrassed, but I admit, my ego loved it.

For the next hour we sat around and bullshitted about nothing, waiting for the students to finish their show. Then at around 11 all the faculty split up to visit the six or eight different rooms packed with soju-drinking students. I picked a room and went in. I saw many of my students there who said hello. But oddly enough, after a few minutes most of them left. Hey, what about my rock star treatment? Maybe they can do that from a safe distance, but when it comes to possibly having face-to-face conversation, they’re scared.

I went to another room and got questioned about all the various personal aspects of my life. I also got the same question I got last semester, one I’m always glad to answer: What do you think of Korean students? I told them that they’re sweet, smart and dedicated, but that they’ve got to express themselves more. Don’t be so shy, speak your mind, have an opinion, that sort of thing.

In the third room I saw my personal student assistant who was sitting with some of my students from last year. That was fun because I know them already so there’s a comfort zone there. Just as I was starting to enjoy myself, I was given a window of escape. One of the professors was leaving. If I didn’t take this ride I’d have to stay all night. And who knows when they’d leave the next day? So I said goodbyes and got in the car.

Once back into town, rather than go home, I went out to a club where I knew a lot of my friends would be. Some of the local bands were playing and the place was packed with all the regulars and then some. I hung out among the drunken foreigners for about an hour and got a cab back home at about 3 am.

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