Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Whiny Foreigner Returns! Why Korean Academic Ceremonies Are Terrible And You Will Die During One Of Them!

After nine years (!) in South Korea you'd think I'd have developed a thicker skin against the absolute gonzo-cheese-ball manner in which they run academic ceremonies.  While I've actually participated in some slightly lower key academic conferences (still fucking bizarro-land compared to American colleges), an academic award ceremony is truly a sight to behold.

To set the stage -- my college received an award from the Korean government for academic excellence.  (Long story short: as a technical health college we produce a lot of majors the country is in dire need of as the low birth-rate demographics are tumbling off a cliff.)  This afternoon we had the final ceremony involving our president and a bunch of other ones from colleges around the country.  My boss insisted I attend.

For starters, when you show up at the auditorium two women dressed in high heels, mini-skirts, and little 1960's era stewardess hats shout "Welcome!" more at you than to you.  (The "Orange Ladies" as I call them are routinely brought in for any campus event involving outsiders.)  I can't imagine being an actual female academic at one of these events and having to walk through a gauntlet of this unintentional but obvious misogyny buy hey, Korea.

The first hour of the ceremony was notable for the playing of Sousa-like marches between each speaker, and a mini-light show as well.  The music was truly deafening, and I can only guess it was to make sure nobody fell asleep.  Maybe I'm just a cynical creep by nature, but stuff like this is just so middle-school musical in nature and cringe-worthy for someone who went to an American college where award ceremonies didn't involve 12 speakers and two different A.V. techs.

So basically there was a string of speeches and then the award ceremony proper.  There were three "waves" as far as I could tell -- the first group of people got flowers (okay, I admit flowers are always nice), the second group got more gift bags, and the third got these honking brass plaques (동판).  For every stage there were multiple pauses so photographers and video folks from each university involved could get their footage, so what should have taken 10 minutes took 30.

And then, right in the middle of the brass-plaque ceremony, the Sousa marches swelled and then were replaced by, I swear to the FSM, the Star Wars rebel victory march.

All five minutes of it.

Basically, I'm not even mad that's amazing.

Finally, about one hour and 45 minutes in, an opera quartet took the stage and did 15 minutes (including an encore kill me fucking now) of canned classical music.  Honestly, they weren't bad technically but at that moment Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix could have taken the stage together with David Bowie on vocals and I'd still be desperate to get back to the safety and comfort and isolation of my office.

And then it was, mercifully, over.  And to say something nice about myself, there were at least a few dozen people who popped out early out of about 200 or so present in total.  Out of loyalty to my boss I stayed until the last bars of some Italian operatic piece translated into Korea.  (I'm pretty sure my boss was keeping an eye on me for exactly this reason.)

I ran into him in the lobby and he asked me if I'd had a good time.  "Of course!" I lied through my teeth.

Anyhow, being a lowly full time English teacher in South Korea, as opposed to an actual academic, does have its benefits.  I only have to sit through this stuff about once or twice a year and usually I at least get a free lunch out of it.  And while American academic gatherings are hardly an Ibiza soap sud party, there's at least a general sense that people will have their time respected, and they won't be blasted by John Williams and yelled at by the South Korean version of robo-Barbies.

As for the gift bag, it was literally a first-aid kit: a definite message from above but from whom, exactly, I'm not sure.

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