Korean Staff Dinner Wins in Overtime
My school’s principal is a social man who loves his Korean alcohol. Scheduled about once a month, staff dinners are a morale and team spirit booster. To celebrate the start of the new semester, I traveled with my new colleagues to the coastal city of Incheon, about an hour west of Seoul. In rare form, this dinner included an overnight in a pension on the beach. This dinner was not for the faint of heart. Looking back on it, I feel like I participated in a sporting event, some of the games being competitive eating, karaoke singing, and late-night drinking. In that case, I’m going to recap it as the spectacle it was.
The games were off to a windy start with pictures on the beach. The players were unfazed, however, and all smiles and poses in the sand.
|Left: A few of the team’s subject teachers; Right: Two English co-teachers strike a winning pose for the team.|
As the sun set, the temperature took a turn for the worse. Many players seemed unprepared for the change and a drop in performance was noticed.
|It’s getting colder.|
A timeout was called and the team huddled together against the wind to plan for the next move. The huddle broke when the play “Group Picture” was put into action, a bold decision by the team’s captains with more than 30 players and a 40-degree wind chill, but they implemented the play flawlessly, just in time for the end of Round 1.
|The Moondeok Elementary School team.|
The players assembled formation around the seaside restaurant tables in typical floor-seating fashion. Drinks of Korean beer and liquor were distributed and the team’s MVP (most valued principal) gave the toast to signal the start of Round 2.
|An endless supply of beer and soju occupied its own table next to the team’s.|
The players had their work cut out for them with the amount of food served. The guest American player was in unfamiliar territory with very little training and the game was continuing at an alarmingly quick and steady pace.
|Clockwise from top left: “sea snails”; sea urchin; raw white fish; brown rice cooked in bamboo; prawns.|
|Left: “corn cheese”; Top Right: sardines; Bottom Right: the best translation received was “sea worms.”|
Within the first half of the round, the players encountered a surprise game changer: live octopus. It seemed bleak for the American, but she bravely took one for the team (of America, that is) and successfully swallowed a wiggling tentacle.
With warm alcohol buzzes and little time to spare in the second round, another challenge was introduced: the final dinner course. The soup’s spiciness and players’ full stomachs could have cost the team mega points, but the copious amounts of alcohol seemed to be encouraging bonus food consumption, and the rice helped keep the spice at bay. The bowls were empty by the end of Round 2.
|The final course of spicy soup on the left; to the right, the post-dinner damage.|
A few minor injuries were reported at the end of Round 2, but the team’s medic was called in and prescribed the recommended doses of post-dinner coffees during transport to the karaoke arena. They were going to need the caffeine boost for the fight that followed.
|Left: Some caffeinated players; Right: the two English-teaching teammates.|
Beer pitchers and soju bottles were loaded and the first karaoke play was put into action: “Gangnam Style.”
Korean pop songs continued the game. Per staggering request the American performed a mediocre rendition of “Moves Like Jagger”, but her score was enough to keep the Koreans in play.
|Singing the only English song of the night: “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5.|
Plenty of debauchery ensued throughout the round including the team’s MVP donning an orange costume wig and prosthetic buttocks for the remainder of play. A risky move, but according to the judges, the best play of the night.
|The team’s MVP making a risky, yet successful, play.|
|Left: Moondeok Team’s agents and spokespersons; Right: the subject teachers’ head coach and the MVVP (most valued vice principal) showed off their veteran experience.|
Round 3 was long and physically demanding, but the team’s morale stayed high with much encouragement from the players. All teammates contributed their share to the entertainment, but it was obvious who the star players were.
Round 3 finished with a celebratory huddle and traditional Korean ballad.
|Singing a traditional Korean ballad to round up the karaoke event.|
After an endearing end to the third round, Round 4 began on a high. The team headed back to Round 1’s seaside restaurant for the night’s final feast. Clams of various sizes were placed on the grill and the players’ patience was put to the test as the slow heat causes the shells to pop open when ready to eat. To keep from any false starts, the team ordered noodles while the clams cooked; a real game-saver.
|The teammates ate seashells by the seashore.|
If the players were still stuffed from Round 2, they showed no sign as every morsel of seafood was quickly devoured. With time to spare and a foreseeable win, the team finally slowed their pace and began their game-ending rituals: handshakes and bows for a game well done.
Although the game was deemed complete, the majority of teammates opted for an optional Overtime to receive bonus points. The team split up by designated pension rooms and bought wine and snacks to contribute to the game’s largest point pool: food and alcohol consumption. Over their light midnight meal, the players discussed the night’s game and the whole team was awarded a record-breaking staff dinner score, at least in the American’s books.