The cultures of the Far East and West are so different that you can find yourself in awkward situations on a daily basis, but since I first came to Korea there have been a few that have stood out the most:
1. Scuba Diving in Yeosu Harbour
I was visiting a festival in Yeosu for the day with an American friend, visiting different tents along the harbour with different themes, and there was also a battleship in dock. I noticed that one of the tents was about diving, which is an activity I have done before and have a great interest in. As I approached somebody called my name from inside the stall, it was a Korean man I had played a game of squash with in a tournament a week or two earlier. He asked me if I dived and when I said yes, he invited me to join him on a dive the next day. I was delighted to accept the invitation as I had been wanting to do another dive for a while. Something didn't feel quite right about it, however, and for some strange reason I was a little suspicious.
I showed up the next day and he lent me a wetsuit, but the festival was still going on and I wandered where we would dive. After a delay of one hour, I put on all my gear and walked through a crowd of about 200-300 people all staring at me, asuming I was making my way to a boat. The man in front of me then pulled his mask infront of his face and jumped into the harbour! This is where I was to dive. To make things worse it had rained the day before, which made the dirty, murky water even worse. I jumped in after him and before we went under I had to carry a banner around with him, swimming around the harbour with hundreds of Koreans taking pictures of us. When we finally went under matters got worse as the visibility was actaully zero, I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face and therefore had no idea of my depth and how quickly I was descending and more importantly how quickly I came up. Needless to say, I didn't see much and after the dive the man said sorry and he said he would contact me again for a better dive. I never heard from him and I was very glad about that. I left with the distinct impression I had just been used as a publicity stunt for their diving company.
2. My Boss Collapsing and Fitting on the Floor
My second job in Korea was hastily arranged as I needed to come back quickly to be with my wife. I didn't get enough information about the school and got a bit of a stinker with a very strange boss. Apart from being a horrible man to work for because he couldn't speak a word of English, was paranoid, unscrupulous, devious, stupid, and creepy, he was also quite ill with a bit of a mysterious illness. He had an annoying habit of keeping all the doors open in the school (Hagwon) to make sure the teachers were doing their jobs properly. This backfired on him disasterously one day, however, as he promptly collapsed in the middle of the school, in full view of all the students and teachers, and started having convulsions on the floor. An ambulance was called and he was taken away on a strange upright stretcher, which he was tied into, a bit like Hannibal Lecter. He would later explain that he had eaten some dodgy sushi earlier that day, but I believe it was down to his long term mysterious illness. The kids were shocked and concerned. I, on the other hand, was quite relieved to be rid of him for a couple of days. Sounds heartless, I know, but he was truly one of the slimiest, most horrible men I have ever had the misfortune of meeting, and especially having as a boss.
3. Meeting the In-Laws for the First Time
This was my the first time I ever saw them, and my now wife's father didn't know we were seeing each other, her mother guessed that we might be but wasn't sure. I met my wife's mother first in a restaurant and immediately she tried to give me lots to drink to try and make me drunk. I would later learn that this is a bit of a test to see a daughter's boyfriend's character when they are drunk. After an hour or so they both persuaded me to go to a Karaoke room with them to sing some songs. At this point I wasn't drunk but they were. To my horror when we arrived my wife's mother invited my wife's father to join us doing Karaoke. I was required to sing some songs and even dance with them, which was horribly uncomfortable. While I was singing 'Let It Be' my wife asked her father what he thought of me. His reply was that he liked me but that if I was a boyfriend he would kill me. To make matters worse this was less than two weeks into our relationship, I was wondering what the hell I was getting myself in for.
4. The Worst Christmas Eve Ever
If you had read my previous blog on being negative in Korea, you might remember I had a rather disasterous start to my Korean experience and it took a while to meet people and make friends. On Christmas Eve in my first year I was still short on buddies but I did have a Korean friend who had helped me out a couple of times. It happened to be his birthday and he invited me out for a few drinks. Even though I was a little uncomfortable with the guy, I thought I owed him at least showing up for his birthday and thought that there would be some others around too. When I got there he was with a friend and two girls, one of which was his girlfriend, all Korean. I said hi, and wished him a happy birthday and bought him a drink. He finished his drink quickly and after 5 minutes was getting ready to leave, saying he was going home. He then whispered into my ear that he was going to say goodbye to his friend and escort the girls to a taxi and then come back after 10 minutes, but not to tell his girlfriend because she thought he was going home too. So he did as he said and came back with two other girls, both of which were his students. He whispered again in my ear which one he liked and I could 'have' the other one. Having never met them before and at the time I spoke not one word of Korean, it wasn't the ideal situation. He made us all go to a bar and do drinking games doing 'hug shots' with the girls, who looked just as uncomfortable with the situation as me. After a couple of hours I had enough of it all and the girls did too and was glad of returning home and not onto Karaoke as I was predicting. I was definitly missing my usual Christmas Eve night out with friends back home.
5. The Shampoo Gift Set
These days, I don't play hardly any squash in Korea. It used to be quite a large part of my life and in my first couple of years here I tried to continue playing, at least a little bit. I showed up to my local squash club one day and there was a tournament going on and only one court free. There was no one to play as the players I usually had games with were playing in the tournament, so I practiced on my own. A middle-aged Korean gentlemen saw me playing on my own and asked if I wanted a game, to which I agreed. He was not too bad a player, but I had to tone down my game to make a game of it, something he obviously appreciated. After the game he looked delighted with me and thanked me, and then promptly disappeared for ten minutes. I had wondered where he had gone, but he came back while I was stretching and presented me with a gift, wrapped in red paper with a pink bow and then disappeared again. I opened the gift in the changing rooms and discovered it was two large bottles of shampoo. A peculiar present at any time and especially after a game of squash and made even more odd by the fact that at the time my hair was shaved short (number 2 on the clippers) so shampoo wasn't much of a necessity for me. Still, it's the thought that counts.