Week 9, Wednesday

How did I survive sitting at a computer for 8 hours every day?

The nice thing about planning time at school is that nobody cares if I am just reading articles or making PowerPoint or lesson planning or doing Korean lessons. As long as my work is done.

In a very frank discussion on the school stairs S turned to me and said, do you use tampons? It turns out she bought them thinking they were pads (to be fair, women’s hygiene products are terribly Victorian about showing what the actual product is).

The previous teacher stored tampons like a squirrel in winter and every week I find a new stash. Koreans, and Asia at large, have a preference for pads so tampons are harder to come by. I’m not going to shame anyone for the period products they use (and frankly Thinx seem like the way to go)

Every time I hear a Korean say something about foreigners, I immediately start listening in. In Korean the word 외국인 literally means “outside person”: in essence, “non-Korean”. Yesterday some teachers were talking about how foreigners speak English. Today S talked about how foreigners eat a lot of bread.

Now I don’t have a problem with being called a “foreigner”* because I am. I take issue with the fact that over 99% of the world population (I did in fact do the calculation of what percentage of the world is not Korean), which is what the word foreigner encompasses, is grouped into one single entity.

At least group by continent.

I can’t Imagine that those Chinese foreigners, Pacific Island foreigners, Costa Rican foreigners, Japanese foreigners all speak English and eat a lot of bread. Maybe the phrase is more nuanced than I understand and really refers to Westerners… But until my Korean gets better I won’t know for sure.

Koreans are always so amazed that I eat kimchi. “But isn’t it too spicy??”

Dear Koreans, I love you but kimchi is not spicy and you really need to up your game if you want to challenge me. I bought Tabasco sauce at the Chinese market yesterday and I think even that has more of a kick than kimchi. It makes me want to try the death pork cutlet that I’ve seen on YouTube.

What I’m actually afraid of is western Chinese food. Afraid… And excited. Korea, I know you think your stuff is spicy but you really hold nothing on China.

A grade 4 boy asked asked why I have hair on my arms. “I’m American” I said and left it at that. I saw Seungkwan Jr, rowdy 4-3 boy and some other grade 4 boys playing soccer in the field. Some girls on the jungle gym shouted HELLO from afar. The soccer boys said HELLO ABIGAIL TEACHER so I stopped to chat. “Who’s winning?”

They didn’t know what I asked and we stood stumped for a moment as I searched for some way to convey that in my limited Korean. Seungkwan Jr translated in Korean, “who’s playing well?” And I nodded. “Oh. I am!” The other teammates raised their hands. Seungkwan Jr is a squishy gift and I love him. He’s also good at English and tries hard in class.

In grade 4 class we played “snatch the phrase” In which students had to listen or watch me and then grab the phrase card that matched. I make them put their hands on their heads to prevent cheating. I psyched (“don… HA! I didn’t say anything yet”) them out a couple of times which was hilarious and they a whined at me to stop.

Since they’re learning commands (line up please, be quiet please…) sometimes they reached for a card when I said “put your hands on your head please” or “look at me”. There was no such card, they were just too invested to realize. I noticed the fourth graders talk about me with appropriate deference (there’s a conjugation to use when speaking in third person about teachers or elders). They told S, Abigail teacher saw our rehearsal! My coworkers speak to me in casual language though (but would probably murder me if I returned the favor).

After I saw the soccer boys I saw more fourth graders and “handsome” fifth grader. She made a frittata in cooking class and showed me. I thought she spoke babyish, stilted Korean but I just now realized she probably speaks that way for my benefit.

I should probably be offended but I am a little grateful. One non soccer fourth grade boy who gets in trouble in class a lot but always makes a show of complimenting my Korean said again “you speak well” so I did an overly formal thank you and bow. There are a lot of fun ways to play with Korean politeness levels, once you get the hang of some of it.

The day did not in there of course. I’m still missing a crucial part of my Halloween outfit, so I stopped by my thrift lady and asked her if she had any big red hats. Turns out she has a huge pile of winter hats but unfortunately none in the style that I’m looking for. But I do love I have a local contact in the neighborhood.

Since I don’t have any other obligations tonight, I figured I should finally get that Tony Moly make up I’ve been meaning to get for the last several months. I got off at a different exit and of course, Seoul being Seoul, it was like another world even though it’s two blocks from where I normally get off. There was an endless row of street vendors and a few secret alleys parallel to the big neon-flashing roads that were super cute and had adorable coffee shops and even one restaurant decorated like a Halloween mansion. I also finished some other errands.

Tomorrow is the talent show and I’m very excited to see all the kids perform and maybe meet some parents too. We have teacher training after that and a chartered bus will take us to an arboretum north of the city. Pictures to come.

*I will start to resent this term in waves.

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