Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dinner with the Parents

Dinner tonight went pretty well. Of course, I was a bit nervous having dinner with the parents of one of my students (Anne, from my favorite class), but at least Gary and Cate were along, as well as Rosie (Cate's delightful daughter) so I wasn't completely put on the spot. Anne is a sweet little girl, and her parents are quite nice, but it was important that I represent the school well, which put a little pressure on me.

We went to a charming little Chinese restaurant, which I was very glad about. I love Korean restaurants, but it is so much easier to make a good impression when you get to sit in a chair, as opposed to the floor. Of course, we used chopsticks, which I'm still not as dexterous with as I would like to be (though vastly improved from when I first came).

There were loads of new foods for me to try (served in courses), most of which I thought were fantastic. I've gotten to the point now where I don't even bother to ask what I'm eating anymore, so I have no idea exactly what ingredients were in each thing I ate. The dumplings with stir-fried peppers and chicken were yummy, as were the sticky sweet potatoes, pickled radishes, and the sweet and sour pork. Best of all were the ginormous shrimp with a light, sweet, buttery coating. Normally I'm not a shrimp fan, but these were amazing! My soup was pretty good, albeit a bit odd: there were pieces of tentacle from some species of sea creature, which I found very difficult too eat (too rubbery for my liking). Of course, the main dish of chajang myon was great (even though I had that for lunch). There was one other dish involving shrimp that I tried and, while it was not a smash hit, it was acceptable to my palette.

The trouble came with a seemingly innocent vegetable and shrimp dish that involved a great deal of broccoli. I personally consider broccoli to be the second greatest among vegetables, so I was eager to try this new dish. Nothing in its appearance prepared me for what was to come. In short, that dish was cruel and vindictive! It was very spicy to begin with, and then I bit into some unidentified crunchy object that was so hot it brought instant tears to my eyes and made me almost desperate enough to tear my tongue out of my mouth and throw it across the restaurant. As I was being observed by Anne's parents, I had no choice but to swallow and try to downplay just how much agony I was in. The side of my tongue is actually still sore from whatever it was I bit into.

Aside from that one mishap, and the one water chestnut that chose to dive into my lap rather than my mouth, dinner was a success. Anne's parents seemed pleased with us teachers, and I thought both of them were very kind. It was also nice to get to spend a little extra time with two of my best students, both of whom are really fun little girls to be around.

One thing continues to amaze me though: I can't figure out how Koreans can stay so small and yet eat so much at each meal! Every Korean I've met can out-eat me easily, yet I'm like Behemoth next to them! It must be all the stairs they put everywhere.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"