Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dinner With the Mayor (1 June)

I often work late at school.  There have been a couple of days where my colleagues have actually had to tell me to go home so that they can lock the office.  Today, I’m given a key to the office and told that I can now stay as late as I like but that I should go home at the end of school.

The Kiwis and I leave school at 16:00 and head to City Hall.  All of the NETs in Gunsan have been invited to a dinner with the Mayor of Gunsan.  The catch is that we first have to attend a “short training” session which turns out to be us all introducing ourselves (although we know most of the EPIK teachers in our city), a short speech by several prominent people, a couples of clips of various foreign teachers introducing their schools and classes, a video clip of the Mayor’s plans for Gunsan and then a Q & A for which we are completely unprepared.  Apparently, the Mayor would like to know how to improve working and living situations for foreigners and is relying on us to give him suggestions.  Although we come up for a few things, the general consensus is that if the Gunsan Office of Education had told us in advance that this is the main purpose of what we were told was a training session, it would have been more beneficial for everyone present. 

Gunsan: The City the Whole World is Watching!

The video clip that we’re shown, however, is quite entertaining.  In the video, the cheesy North American accented voice (because North America is the reference for all English-related things in Korea) informs us that Gunsan is the “new Dubai” and “the city that the whole world is watching”.  There is also a great map of the world with arrows showing planes heading from major countries around the world directly to Gunsan; within Korea, all roads lead to Gunsan and we can’t help but laugh at this video which also reminds of Gunsan’s slogan: The Dreamhub. 

There are a couple of reasons that this video is so entertaining:
1.      Gunsan has a population of approximately 300 000 people.  I’m uncertain as to whether or not this number include the huge US Air Base in Gunsan too, which, if it does, would make the size of the city even smaller.
2.      Gunsan boasts two cinemas, two large market stores, two parks and let’s not forget the Saemangeum Seawall.  Obviously, we also have lots of coffee shops, restaurants and boutique type stores but these are our main sites.  Although I’ve never been to Dubai, I’m fairly certain that is has far more attractions than Gunsan. 
3.      The US Air Base in Gunsan is apparently the second largest in Korea.  Consequently, many of us have heard on numerous occasions that this makes us a prime target for a North Korean attack after wiping out the base in Seoul.  Whether or not there’s any truth to this story remains unclear.  What is clear, however, is that it would seem that only North Korea would be watching Gunsan as many people outside of Gunsan – especially outside of our province – don’t even have a clue where this prime city is!
4.      The arrows showing planes from around the world going straight to Gunsan is a farce.  Gunsan has a small domestic airport – on the air base apparently – that only seems to have daily flights to Jeju. 

One thing you cannot deny, however, is that Koreans dream big and, in all fairness, there has been a lot of development in Gunsan over the last few years.  The section where Catfish lives, for example, and the area around the cinemas, Lotte Mart and where the Arts Centre is being built were rice fields until about six years ago – there weren’t even buses to those areas then because it was just fields.  If Gunsan continues it’s development boom in this manner, it could very well become a major city although it doesn’t have a beach since it’s an industrial port.

Please Take Advantage

We’re shuffled out of City Hall and onto a bus to take us to a samgyeopsal restaurant for dinner.  Here, the conversation turns lively and foreign teachers seem to scramble for seats away from the prominent people.  Catfish and I end up sitting across from Peter Jung, the head of the Gunsan English Learning Centre that is next to my school, and the Mayor’s assistant.  The meat is not yet even on the grill and the alcohol is already flowing.  We’re introduced to Baek Soju, which seems to be even stronger than regular soju.  Shot after shot, our glasses keep being refilled despite our attempts to just sip our soju. 

Suddenly, the Mayor’s assistant is indicating for me to follow him and to bring my shot glass.  He takes me over to the Mayor and motions for me to pour a drink for the Mayor.  One of the interpreters then tells me that the Korean custom is for the Mayor to now pour me a drink in return then we have a brief chat.  The Mayor, via the interpreter, asks me the usual questions: How old am I?  Do I like Korea?  How long have I been here?  Do I have a boyfriend?  He then tells me to “take advantage and find a Korean boyfriend” at which point I excuse myself. 

Towards the end of the evening, Catfish is approached by two of the interpreters who offer to teach her and I Korean – something that Catfish asked about during the earlier Q & A session.  After a short chat and exchange of numbers, we excuse ourselves and tipsily leave with some friends to our Kiwi-mom’s apartment for birthday cake to celebrate Catfish’s upcoming birthday on Friday.

No comments:

Post a Comment