tea stories: waygookin tea

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Sometime after the tah-do tea ceremony, and tea fields, and the tea master who was now studying the practice of Taoism in and around the hermitage areas of Jeonju and beyond, Summer began to fizzle and with it erupted the new school year. Halloween was upon us and our local mentor teachers were far busier planning lessons than their native-English-speaking counterparts. For the most part, we spent our days creating presentations, researching language and culture, and investing most of our time learning how to connect with students. Our Mission: to become fun foreign teachers.

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So while the local teachers did things like drawing up assessments, responding to parent concerns, designing performance tasks and the like, we made Halloween costumes and terrorized the locals by pretending to be zombies and asking for brains in Korean (두뇌, or “dun-way”). There had to be a better way to immerse our waygookin (Korean for “foreigner”) group in Korean culture.

Enter: Tea.

If there’s anything you can count on finding in a typical Korean school, it’s a cupboard overflowing with tea and coffee. Korean Teachers would go out for hot beverages quite frequently, and invite along foreign English teachers for conversation clubs, incorporating lively chit-chat, conversations about books, and usually a dessert of cake, tarts or pat-bin-soo (frozen red bean).

After Halloween, I invited some friends over to join in the wonderful tea culture I had discovered. It seemed like a fleeting pastime, until the connections I made turned out to be a group of artists, philosophers, writers and travelers. The crowd were not your typical bar-going tourists. These were foreign teachers who had already seen much of the world, written about their experiences, and loved starting new projects.

We wrote, traveled, enjoyed festivals, took photographs, and had several cups of tea together. The group was ever-expanding, with our core of three-to-five regular tea-drinkers inviting more and more foreign English teachers to my little apartment in Sekyoung Tower.

Sitting in my Canadian prairie home, looking out at the freshly-fallen snow, I recollect those tea parties fondly, and wonder if there’s a home for such a vibrant tea-culture here…

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