Thursday, September 27, 2012


It's hard to translate the word 회식 (hweshik). Naver says it's "get-together" or "officers dining in", but the first is too broad and the second is too clumsy, in my opinion. The two words individually are Sino-Korean (會*, meaning a meeting, and 食, meaning food), but the phrase doesn't exist in Chinese as far as I'm aware.

So when I want to tell people in English that I went to a 회식, I literally say, "I went to a hweshik." And if they're native English teachers in Korea, it's likely that they'll know what that means.

A hweshik, then, is a dinner outing specifically for members of a school or company. It's like an institution-sponsored night of food, fun, and 정-building. They are very common, and commonly end in lots of very happy drunk Koreans singing at a 노래방. Or so I've been told.

I've been to two hweshiks with the faculty of Changwon Science High so far. The first was to toast a farewell (송별연회) to our outgoing principal, and the one I went to tonight was to welcome in the new one. At neither party did anyone surpass even mild tipsiness, and I, especially -- not wanting to embarrass myself with my lightning-quick Asian glow -- sipped that soju as slowly as possible.

But while the first hweshik was awkward, because I hardly knew anyone and just listened to one of my co-teachers translate everything everyone else was saying, tonight was more fun. By this time, all of the other teachers know who I am, and some of them have apparently latched onto me despite the fact that I can't even remember their names.

The two who wanted to sit next to me teach math and chemistry, and while they're both married with kids, they're still among the youngest of my co-workers. (Have I mentioned yet that I'm closer in age to my students than to any of the other teachers at my school?) Upon sitting down, they declared that they were the "Andrew Fan Club". I had trouble understanding this at first, because transliterated into Korean, this becomes en-de-lyu pen ke-lub (앤드류 팬 클럽). I also have no idea why they want to be my fan club; nevertheless, they have designated themselves to be chief and manager. I should learn their names.

Again, conversation started off in stilted English ("What are you doing for Chuseok?" "Do you like math?"), moved to broken Korean ("I'm going to Daegu with my homestay family, and I was terrible at math in high school"), and then lapsed into their fluent Korean with me zoning out or texting. Math Teacher (MT) was humorously trying to keep me in the loop by staying glued to his dictionary and trying to translate as fast as he could. Here's how that went:

Me: *thinking about blogging*
MT: Investment techniques.
Me: What?
MT: Investment techniques. *shows me the dictionary on his smartphone*
Me: Oh, okay, Investment techniques. Why?
MT: They are talking about investment techniques.
Me: Oh, okay! Um... which bank do you use?
Everyone: *starts arguing about the best banks in Korea, in Korean*
Me: *zones out again*

And then there was Chemistry Teacher (CT), who trying so hard to increase his vocabulary.

Me: *points to what looks like oil* What is this?
CT: *unintelligible Korean*
Me: Okay, I'll just look that up in the dictionary. Ah, sesame oil!
CT: Sesame oil! Yes. With... *points to the grains of rock salt mixed in* ... Sodium chloride.
Me: Ah, yes, we call that salt.

Every time Chemistry Teacher or Math Teacher would successfully translate something difficult into English, they'd give each other high-fives across the table. Computer Science Teacher was just amused. She doesn't speak much English, is what I gathered.

Anyway, that was my second hweshik. The food was great, and the company was nice. It was really quite tame, even tamer than the first. From what I've heard of my Fulbright colleagues' experiences, these dinner parties can get wild. It's a well-known fact that Korean educators are some of the most hardworking -- and most stressed-out -- employees of the state. Thus, it follows that when they have an opportunity to completely unwind, they will, and the spirits flow in proportion. But my high school is actually in the middle of administering midterm exams. Half of the teachers actually returned to campus after dinner to continue working (grading exams or whatever), ostensibly until nine or ten at night, as usual. At Changwon Science High School, I guess that's how we roll.

위하여! Cheers!**

- - -
*LOL. As soon as I typed that Chinese character, my host mother came home, and I almost greeted her with a cheery "你好!" What is wrong with me?

**More correctly, that means "To...!", as in "To us! To health! To Changwon Science High School!", etc.