Monday, September 7, 2009

Some Random thoughts on Social Behavior in Jecheon

Though Ian and my day didn't start out all that wonderfully (we were "texted" into an apparently weekly Monday morning meeting this morning), it ended up being socially fruitful.  The other teachers insisted that I sit with them for coffee this morning and then Kim (my Ha So principle) and her husband offered to take Ian and I around the city and pay our way.  So, it seems like we'll have a pretty busy weekend and that Sunday night's blog will be lots of fun.
Ian also met three teachers form Wonderland, another Hagwon in Jecheon (it happens to be black listed), at the bus stop tonight.  They told him that there is a bar in town called "Rock&Roll" and that it is the best place to start if we want to meet other English teachers.  Apparently, you can find up to 15 teachers there on any given weekend, so Ian and I guess that there must be 30-40 teachers in Jecheon.  If not more.  Considering the size of the city, that's a lot of teachers.
For the most part, Jecheon seems pretty westernized.  At times, it feels a little like Tacoma.  But, there are a couple of social norms here that remind us of the cultural differences.
Garbage is truly everywhere in Jecheon, but I don't mean that it's a dirty place.  Litter isn't uncommon by any stretch, but it's the formal handling of trash that interests me.  First of all, different types of garbage is picked up on different days of the week.  It may be like recycling, but I'm not so sure since Korea is a fan of burning their garbage at large waste sites.  There is a dumpster and several other "material specific" recepticals outside our apartment, just like you'd expect to see in the states.  Here's where it gets different.  In out apartment building, people put they're full trash bags outside their doors until trash day when they take it down.  No one really fills the bin outside until the day before or the day of pick up.  It's the same on the streets.  Business lean their garbage bags up against the trees lining the street.  They just sit there and wait for pick up.  It's never really gross or smelly, though.  I'm not sure how this is.  Garbage must be picked up more than once a week.
Garbage outside our neighbor's door.
Hand/Cell Phones
Everyone has a cell phone here.  Tiny kids to 60-year-olds can be seen walking while talking or texting.  There are few inappropriate times to use for phone (luckily, class is one of them) and it's for someone to stop their conversation with you, important or not, to pick up a phone call.  We also receive formal business instructions via text.  For example, we knew we had to go into work early today because we received a text that said so.  From our apartment window, you can see glowing cell phone screens as people take nightly walks around the play field.
People spit on the streets and sidewalks here.  A lot.  I'm not talking the dainty, front of the mouth spit of the West.  If you're out, you'll hear all sorts of people "reaching" deep into the back of their throat and spitting casually on the ground.  I saw a man walk out of his business the other day to hack into the landscaping dirt near the sidewalk.  Asia is considered to be pretty germ phobic, but, like many cultures, it's a little confusing.  Many people wear face masks in public, but sharing food, spitting and unconstrained garbage are not a problem.  I'm sure you could find cultural contradictions in any culture, though.  It's just easy to identify them when you're an outsider.
"Bosom Buddies"
This is mostly true of women here.  Anytime we've been shown around by a woman, met a woman or simply seen one on the street, she's been accompanied by a close friend.  When Kim took us for our medical evaluations, she brought Lily.  The only time we've had interaction with adults outside of work has been two women friends with their young daughters.  Friends are very important here, especially for women.  There are always people (of all ages) outside our window, walking in the field below.  More often then not the women are in pairs.  The school girls are ALWAYS in pairs.

A pair of school girls walking and chatting in the elementary play field.
   After I took this photo, two other sets of pairs walked into the field.  I couldn't get a decent photo because there was also a soccer game going.

I'm sure we'll learn more about social behavior the longer we're here.  I'm still trying to figure out the whole bowing thing.  I just pretty much bow to everyone.  Also, there appear to be polite ways to hand something to someone and to receive something from someone, but I haven't figured out the when and why's of that yet either.  Hopefully, soon.


  1. Sounds like a lot of positive things came out of the monday morning meeting. Next weekend should be a lot of fun. Good thing the cell phones come with two batteries there, you can never have your phone off! Can't wait to see the pics from the rock and roll club.

  2. I'll be interested in hearing the proper way to hand things to people. In Indonesia one always echanged things with the right hand only. The other was considered dirty. Enjoy the R&R Club!
    I'm lovin' your blog!

  3. I am glad to hear your day improved once you got to your school. I am so thrilled that you will be busy this weekend, and I can't wait to hear who you meet at the rock and roll club. Maybe they will have a singing room, the Korean version of karaoke. I guess that sort of thing is quite popular.

  4. Oh, this sounds so much more positive. I'm glad. I bet Ian was thrilled to meet other English teachers. Were they all Americans or were there some from England, Australia, etc.? Well, I guess we'll find out more after your adventure at the R&R Club.

    I really enjoyed the commentary on the differences. I can't wait to hear more (and find out proper passing procedures).

  5. Hi,

    Not sure if you guys are still connected to this blog or not but I'm currently working in Jecheon! Came with EPIK on the Spring 2011 program. Working at Naeto ES. Can you tell me whereabouts this 'Rock & Roll' bar is? My friends and I want to find these so-call foreigners as we haven't really seen any! I live in the Cheong-Jeon-Dong area (by the Lotte Supercenter - not sure if that was there when you guys were here or Pizza Hut) but we're not far from downtown either.....

    Many thanks if you guys can reply! x