Korea: Quiet except for the ping pong gambling

For reasons lost on me I’m at school on a Monday. That isn’t a new concept, but what is different is that the school is empty except for the teachers. The students have all gone to Japan for four days, they left on Saturday and return Tuesday. Wisely the principal decided to cancel classes on Wednesday to give the students (and himself) a chance to recover.

I forgot how quiet an empty school is. It’s eerie. Schools are meant to be filled with noise and youthful exuberance. With the students present the whole place seems deserted.

The other teachers are about as motivated as I am, we’re warming chairs while the students visit Osaka and Tottori. I think. No one has quite explained how 30 students managed to four day trip to Japan. I do know I lobbied hard to be included as a chaperone. I think it’ll be an eye-opening trip for the students, many of whom considering a trip to Dongducheon or Uijeongbu major excursions. Dongducheon is a ‘city’ of less than 100 000 people, notable mostly for the US Army base and being the last stop before Soyosan – a mountain Koreans love to hike. Uijeongbu is a bit bigger, a bit more cultured and famous for being the place where buddae jiggae (one of my favourite Korean meals) was created to feed US servicemen during the Korean War. It’s also where M*A*S*H was situated. It’s grown up since then. Now though, the students are going somewhere international and are about to learn how small Korea actually is and how minimally they’ll be able to get by with Korean. Hopefully they return with a love of travel and an appreciation for my excellent English classes.

Well, I can pretend.

Today the teachers aren’t doing much, but in a country that doesn’t permit gambling… they’re having a ping pong tournament. Apparently I’m not good enough at ping pong to join any of the teams. Now, admittedly, having me as a partner makes for a real challenge since some of my colleagues are very good and play daily, but I would have enjoyed an invitation.

Rather that wager money, the winning duo chips in 3000 Won for lunch, the runners-up pay 6000 Won, third has to cough up 12 000 Won and the final placed team of the four competing in the round robin grudge match pays 15 000 Won.

Hardly record breaking amounts but it does add to the thrill of the game somewhat. I would have thrown in my name knowing I was going to probably be paying half of the 15 000 Won last place. It’s not like I can’t afford that. But Koreans are different, they’d rather not include a stranger sometimes than letting the waygook make their own decision and having a bit of fun.

And I do have a decent serve. It’s just the rest of my game that’s lacking.

Ah well, I’ll still lunch with them. Perhaps we’re going out to one of the local dog restaurants. I don’t really know. I just follow along and know the food will be spicy and delicious.

I’m looking forward to hearing of the students’ experiences. And who got into trouble. I’ve already got a few usual suspects I’m sure will cause a ruckus or two.



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