Monday, January 19, 2009

Lunch With the Smart Kids

First, allow me to gripe about lunch. But let me preface my remarks with the note that this is winter camp, and perhaps things will change once we enter full-blown school mode in March. The new food service blows. Chunks.

Apparently, there were complaints about the old food service, but they didn't come from me. They always had fish plus another meat, three or four veg, and usually something like desert--a banana, orange, yogurt drink, etc. Okay, strawberry jam and cheese sandwiches are weird, but I'm just a sojourner here.

And rice and kimchi. Of course. The new company--Dongwon, the folks who recently acquired Starkist--is similar, except for the part about "another meat." Today they had little odeng squares in hot sauce (odeng is, as Andy puts it, "fish SPAM") and what was announced on the menu as "breaded fried shrimp." It turned out to be a 2" X 4" flat patty which may have had mechanically separated shrimp and shrimp by-products in it somewhere, but it was so drenched in the sweet, liquidy catsup they use here that you would never know.

Additionally, and totally needlessly, they have changed the tray/utensil disposal procedure so that you can actually see the slop bucket into which you empty your leftovers. Not a very pleasant way to end your meal.

During the school year, students eat in their primary classrooms, and there is a system of carts and trays to get get the food onto each hall. But during camp, everyone is eating in the faculty lunchroom. And the lunch ladies determine portions. They don't seem to understand I may want extra of one thing, and/or not very much of something else. They're very sweet, but English isn't a requirement for their rating.

I swear I was going to limit my rant to two paragraphs. Sorry.

Moving on. One day last week, I sat across from young Mr Shin, who is the best English speaker in the school--except for Miss Cho. He is a student in the 4th period class. He was joined by a couple of his friends, who also speak well, and are very smart besides. We actually talked without the usual annoying questions about my age, etc--like about the news, American football, things to do in Seoul, the food. After that first lunch, one of the boys said to me, "Please, will you sit with us every time?" Touching, no?

Smart as they are, they are Korean, nonetheless. We had the following exchange on another day:
Che: Mr Oh [Korean teacher, who I've been out for drinks with a couple of times] tells us you are good at drinking maek-chu. You can drink all the beer.
Me: He said that?
Shin: I am not sure he said that.
Me: Well, maybe Mr Oh or someone will ask me, 'How much beer can you drink?' And I will answer them, 'How much do you have?'
All: Ooohh!
Me: Then I will say, 'However much you have, I will drink half!'
All: Aahhh!
Che: You are a real man!

Bonus Photograph: Standing in the lunch line today, I saw this slogan on the back of an Adidas jacket. Well, it makes as much sense as "ask Enquired" anyway (which is also a common jacket logo). And no, I didn't ask. Nor did I enquired.

Trimm Dich slogan on Adidas jacket

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