Friday, October 28, 2005

argh-- lame party

Our department's Halloween party... occurred. If the decorations looked good, that was almost entirely thanks to the hard work of the Korean staff from our main office, who made the magic happen.

We Westerners saw the party-- weeks ago, in conversation and during our recent meeting-- as a waste of time. The Korean staffers were naively expecting 60-70 avid, excited college students. We ended up with about 25 people (students plus everyone else), and that was because some staffers invited friends and relatives. A party that was ostensibly for the students was, for the most part, filled with teachers.

Western foot-dragging wasn't without justification. This week has been a terrible one for student attendance, because most of the undergrads (and quite a few grad students) were busy with midterms. During such times, English class is almost always the first class to be skipped. Given that our program doesn't offer the students credit, the students feel free not to take the program seriously.

It was embarrassingly lame at first: the party was to start at 5PM, and there was even a two-woman camera crew waiting to film the festivities. By 5:30, we had barely a handful of people, and most of them were popping in and out of the room (we were using 309, a large classroom that can seat about 70 or 80 students). I was the sort-of emcee, but the late start meant that opening remarks by our boss* had to be brief, and then we had to plunge right into a hectic series of games that had been planned. In my opinion, there was no need for games: the partiers were primarily college age and above. This was kid's stuff.

The evening was almost alcohol-free. That didn't make any difference for me, but a couple of my colleagues were hurting. A stiff drink might have made the proceedings a bit more palatable to them.

I did referee a game or four-- a pass-the-pumpkin relay, a pumpkin carving contest, a "marshmallow monster" craft event, and that "untie the people-knot" game I've used in a couple English classes. I'd made up a quick and goofy PowerPoint presentation to talk about the origins of Halloween, but that never got used (good: the presentation sucked).

I was also supposed to referee some other games after dinner had been served (here as well, I didn't see why we had to interrupt dinner with more games), but no one was paying attention since I was speaking in English. I guess it's only natural to treat a foreign language as background noise, to tune it out, or to assume that what's being said doesn't apply to you. Perhaps realizing that I didn't have anyone's attention, two of the Korean staffers loudly introduced the final set of games in Korean, and people perked up once they heard instructions in their own language.

In the background, on the classroom's video projection screen, we had the recent remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" playing. Two days ago, one of the Korean staffers asked me whether it'd be OK to play "The Exorcist" during the party. While I'm a big fan of Blatty's film, I told her it might not be a good idea, especially with some fundie Christians in attendance. My own suggestion was an even gorier movie: John Carpenter's "The Thing," also a remake. Aliens, not Satan, you see.

I have to chuckle: because I was the emcee, I'd been told what the program was. The party had been planned out practically minute by minute: 5 minutes for the speech, 10 minutes for the first activity, 15 minutes for the next activity, etc. Of course, all your best-laid plans go to shit when your guests don't arrive on time, and that's what happened tonight.

The party ended up going late: we passed the 6:30 mark and blundered toward 8PM. The major unplanned event, tacked on at the very end, was a dance. At that point, my head was a fucking mess again, and I left to take more of my leftover painkiller (ibuprofen from my dentist). I hung around in the faculty room, just across the hall, so I could help with cleanup when it was all over. Two of our colleagues left in disgust about two-thirds of the way through the festivities. A third stuck it out as bravely as he could (he even wore a costume, something I didn't do).

I should explain here that, as an introvert, I'm can't fucking stand most parties. The worst thing for me is the obligatory dishonesty: slap a happy expression on my face and pretend to enjoy myself. Had I not been the emcee (that word should really be in scare quotes), I'd have made my escape fairly early on.

I also can't relate to the Korean attitude, so similar to the overly cheerful American camp counselor's, that "We're going to have some fun, dammit!" While I respect the effort made by the office staff and feel like a fat, lazy shit for not having pulled my share of the load, I'll say in my defense that I-- and my colleagues-- used simple common sense to determine long in advance that this party wasn't going to fly. Pouring our energies into costumes and other decorations would have been what Koreans call heo(t)-su-go, or "hard work done in vain."

I'm not saying this was all a Korean vs. Western thing, by the way. It was partly that, yes: I could have done without the perky camp counselor approach to party planning. But some of the people who voiced dissent a few weeks ago were also Korean; this wasn't a purely cultural issue. It was a common sense issue, and common sense isn't the sole possession of any culture. Think about it: if students are buried under a pile of midterms, and if normal classes have been cancelled for exams (as they were today-- all classes except those in our department), it's a bit silly to expect droves of students to show up for a party that has barely been advertised.

How would I have done things differently? I'd have made a command decision: cancel the Halloween party this year. Halloween might be celebrated in places other than America, but it's primarily an American thing these days. My colleagues, none of whom hail from the States, weren't exactly into the event. Besides, Halloween's not even a holiday. What's the big deal?

An American Thanksgiving party, on the other hand, might have been nice. You know: a potluck dinner. Turkey is available in Seoul, and it's not impossible to find things like cranberry sauce and stuffing. Koreans already consume tons of potatoes, and Korean milk is tops in my book, so mashed potatoes aren't hard to make. American Turkey Day doesn't coincide with any major academic or national events, and it's a good, decent, sit-down experience-- a chance for the students to participate in something Americans are champions at: talking and stuffing their large, flabby selves.

Ugh. Well, at least it's over. I spent thirteen hours at school.

Head still pounding. I'm off to bed early, then up tomorrow to take care of the test rating I still haven't done.

*Ever heard of a casual party for college kids where the boss kicks things off with formal opening remarks?



Anonymous said...

Five days with a headache, eh? So how long are you going to let it go on?

Anonymous said...

And come to think of it, I don't think I've been to one Korean function where someone didn't start out with some kind of speech or formal remarks.

Anonymous said...



Jelly said...

I agreee with Nomad! 5 days with a headache isn't good! Maybe you should visit your doc for a nice ass-injection!