While this feature certainly did not turn out to be “weekly,” I am a big fan of alliteration, and thus the name remains. Rejoice as I bring you tidbits from abroad, the scraps of my life. As a man-child capable of blowing the slightest anecdote out of proportion into something burgeoning upon the word-limits of most short stories, prepare to be astounded and amazed as I communicate episodes of my life to you in but a few paragraphs at a time.
As Korean schools tend to become desolate, frigid wastelands in the wintertime, where arcane Korean Logic or something dictates that we must cast open the windows and doors to invite the frostbite in, I turn in search of warming methods. Before coming to Korea, my recruiter warned us: the schools get cold in winter, prepare to wear your jacket all day. I have, on occasion, done this, but teaching in a parka and scarf feels obstructing, and at a certain point lecturing in leather gloves loses its cool and implies I have a disfiguring skin condition. My co-teachers witheringly refer back to my previous claims about Canadianness and the ability to withstand cold, and I tell them to cram it, and then covetously watch what they do to fight the temperature.
Small personal heaters are everywhere in my school, as the overhead heating system is generally inadequate everywhere but the main and principal’s office. Teachers suddenly switch to their winter slippers, and I begin seeing adults shuffle through the halls in bulbous, furry booties. The kids pass heating packs back and forth between their hands and, when they are really feeling it, to their chilled, icy faces. People huddle, and eat even more soup than usual.
The other method is the seat heating pad, a flat cushion you put on your chair and turn on, which shoots warmth directly up your butt. It is, essentially, a heat enema, blasting waves of dry, electric fire into your body by way of your anus. I have no idea if it is efficacious or good for your health or whatever, but it makes me uncomfortable. My ass is not used to being too regularly and thoroughly heated, and there are times when I literally must take a walk to cool my buttocks back down. Disturbingly, the Incheon subway trains also contain seat-warmers, and there have been many times where I was left to shift, disgruntled, about in my spot, not daring to get up for a second of cool relief because of the fleet of milling ajummas waiting for the moment I vacate my valuable seating property.
– Living abroad means connecting to people and making friends with unexpected strangers. Removed from your usual context and provided with a more limited, specific pool of people from which to draw your friends, you seek out different types than usual, the kind of people that, through opportunity or different hobbies and work or general snootiness, you just never would meet or associate with back home. It is interesting, over time, to see which people I have grown close to, and which I have seen less of. Other than the two most obvious ongoing friendship candidates (my hotel roommate during orientation and someone I literally moved to Korea with), my predictions on who my friends would be were often wildly off-base.
Not to say that the people I thought I would be friends with were jerks or anything, more that the even more intensely weird orientation process drives people together even further. Feverish bonds are forged like it’s the last day of high school for a whole week, and people sign yearbooks and promise to be besties forever. Distance or differing interests begin to sever the ties, while minor acquaintances from early on suddenly appear and turn out to be awesome, and then you’re seeing them every day. I guess this is to say: I am not a terribly good judge of friendship longevity, and also friendship sneaks up upon me as though by sneak attack.
– Every Korean school year features a lot of turnover, as teachers are generally only allowed to stay at a school for four years. This means that this year, 17 of the teachers at my school are leaving (and one of my coteachers is leaving to do his mandatory military service). But also, the principal is moving to another school, the VP getting a promotion, and so the whole regime is changing.
As is a custom, Korean schools celebrate big changes with big dumb song-and-dance. The teachers learned various songs for the graduation, and one day, just before spring break, I was informed that the whole staff was also learning a song to sing to the principal. Hah, I thought, the waygook card can be charged once more: as a scary weirdo foreigner, I will surely be exempt from this group activity. However, I had forgotten that I am an egotistical show-off, and therefore several of my co-teachers were well aware that I could read Korean (and my main co-teacher knew I could do it fast enough to sing). “Why don’t you come with us?” one asked. “Principal will be very happy.”
I sat in the choir room while the other teachers filed in, occasionally glancing at me, but reconciling the presence of the token as just a pleasant gesture. My co-teacher handed me the song (만남, apparently famous in the Korean 1980s, which I now wish to visit), and asked me if I could read music. Two competing impulses immediately bubbled forth in my brain: the desire to escape what would surely be stultifying and awkward, and the burning need to constantly seem well-rounded, educated, and awesome. As always, my ego won out, and the impulse to seem smart got to the front of my brain first: “Of course I can read music!” I cried. “Oh, god damn it,” I then cried, internally.
[I learned the song, we have not performed it yet. I was able to translate portions of it, and they are cheeeeeeezy. A lot about loving you, a lot about having tears, and a lot about our meeting being fated. The only benefit was the dumbfounded shock as some teachers turned around and saw that I was actually keeping up.]