October 23, 2012 by travelinggrits
At our Fulbright Conference in Gyeongju, I was well-advised to purchase 황남빵, a red bean pastry/bread for which the city has a long-standing reputation, as a gift for my co-workers and host family. Perhaps this anecdote can illustrate the power of the Gyeongju wonder bread:
The box of bread was delivered to my school last Wednesday afternoon, and my co-teacher went to the administration office to pick it up. At the sight of the box, my students suddenly became miraculously fluent in English, demanding one piece, please!!! I tell them the box, despite the label, does not contain bread – it has smelly socks. They demand that I open the box to prove it. I ask them if they want socks. My students reply by saying their socks are ugly and my socks are beautiful.
The bell rings and the students run to class. My co-teacher leaves the office once the coast is clear – but when the door opens I hear one lone voice, all the way down the hall in a classroom, still yelling, one piece, please!!!
Later, I send an instant message to all the teachers that I am bringing the bread to the teachers’ offices. Within minutes I have messages flooding my inbox expressing gratitude for the gift, and by the time I arrive to each office bearing a plate piled with bread, the teachers are hovering around the break tables, not-so-surreptitiously waiting.
As a courtesy, I took my principal bread first – he thanked me and said I have a beautiful and kind mind. (I think this is the translation of a common Korean phrase because people have said this before).
This week, the bread is still a conversation starter. Teachers who are usually reticent in my presence timidly offer me an articulation of appreciation in English. One teacher even reminisced on his childhood home close to the Gyeongju bread bakery, where he was a frequent customer seeking an after-school snack. Moreover, the teachers are immensely impressed that I wrote the bread announcement in Korean, all by myself.