So I decided I'd talk about food instead. When we first arrived in the underground student cafeteria for our first few meals at Jungwon, most of us were pleasantly surprised. Word had gotten around that the food was quite bad, but we enjoyed it. Like I said in my last post, the grape tomatoes are THE best I've ever tasted! And watermelon that is so juicy and sweet has been the main fruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
But, after a site visit last Friday to an actual ETA placement high school in Daejeon and the lunch we had there, I've got second thoughts. You see, since Korean high school students eat 2 (or maybe all three) meals at school, the food is actually quite good. And we had a great lunch at the school there. That's when we first realized that maybe the food at Jungwon wasn't quite the best ... at least by Korean standards.
Still though, we eat very well. And my chopstick skills are improving by leaps and bounds! The way it works is this: we come down into the cafeteria and swipe our ADT security token (oddly enough) to keep count of our meals. Then we pick up spoon and chopsticks and place then on the tray in their little right-hand slot. The rice goes first in the large square area, and all the side dishes (or banchan) in the top four slots, and sauce in the little square in the top right corner; and finally we pick up our soup and place it in the little rounded area made just for it. I hadn't thought about it until now, but this tray arrangement summarizes Korean eating preferences well: rice and soup are key and all the other dishes (banchan) are secondary.
Anyway, here is a picture of what I ate for breakfast just the other day:
Clockwise from the top sauce square: ketchup in the square spot, my utensils, a tofu fishcake soup, rice with seaweed, apples, this cole slaw-like stuff with a yummy apple-tasting dressing, little mystery meat sausages cooked with egg, and (of course) kimchi. And that is breakfast. Yep, I said breakfast. So far it hasn't really bothered me much except for one day when I just really wanted a pop-tart. The kimchi isn't the best, but I always eat it all. The soup that day was actually the first that I didn't finish - the fishcake slices floating in there were just too soggy and it gave the entire soup a really weird flavor. We also always have apple slices in the morning.
This was (a surprising) lunch later that day:
We get the feeling they wanted to cook an "American" lunch, and it was good. But just very strange to eat in Korea. They've done this only once or twice, but it's strange to come in and just pick up a pre-made plate with very little kimchi and the rice molded into a pretty ball. This actually ended being a very thin fried pork cutlet (if it even merits the designation of "cutlet") and it wasn't too bad. It's just odd when they try to cater to what they think "American" tastes are. (Or maybe they do this every once in a while to Jungwon students regularly...I'm not sure.) But especially after we've gotten used to eating with our spoon and chopsticks (Koreans use their spoons A LOT!), lots of rice dipped in everything, and going without drinking during the meal the single plate, fork and knife meal was weird.
I have to emphasize that Koreans do not drink anything during their meal at all; essentially you drink your soup. And you just get water to wash everything down after putting your tray away. Lots of the other ETAs don't really follow this little cultural difference and get their cups of water to drink during their meal like Americans. But I've adjusted pretty well to going the entire meal without a drink. (That was certainly one surprise and something I do feel like I can say that I've adjusted to!)
Anyway, the food is alright I guess. But after having such a yummy lunch at the high school last Friday, I'm wondering what more is out there to taste in Korea. I was hoping to make a whole page on my blog with just pictures of my plates through the year, but I just haven't gotten the chance to really eat an original Korean meal outside of Jungwon. The good news is later this week, a bunch of us ETAs and our new Korean friends are going out to eat samgyupsal in Goesan - a classic Korean dish, which most Koreans consider their favorite food! So that meal will probably officially start the "Pictures of Plates" page.
In brief other news, out first lesson plans for an English summer camp (which starts next week) are due tonight. Representatives from the US Embassy will visit tomorrow. And the entire ETA class will visit Donghae (a town on the east sea which literally means "East Sea") over the weekend to relax and have fun right before the camp begins. Korean classes are picking up and moving fast, but I think I'm doing well to stay caught up. I think I'll do a little studying now in fact.
But here's a picture of Korena, my roommate and Lulu as we prepare the spend the night finalizing lesson plans and studying! She's very cool and thank my lucky stars, we get along super well!! It's so surprising to find such a friend of the heart in a situation like this. More on her later for sure as we go on adventures with Lulu!