Since all of grade 6 went on a field trip to Jeju Island, S and I had a mostly empty day. One of the few students who didn’t go on the trip stayed in our class and for three hours we played a knock off version of monopoly in which you can still buy cities and build hotels but your playing pieces are spaceships. The game actually really helped me understand Korean currency which is on a system of 10,000 instead of 1000 (ten man won is 100,000).
It was a nice reminder of the fun we can have and I’ve been too hard on S. We’re doing our best within the system.
During lunch the three of us went to the student cafeteria since S thought it might make other teachers uncomfortable if a sixth grader was in the teacher’s lounge. I have to say, I felt like an absolute rock star. All the kiddos who saw me were so surprised and called out “Abigail teacher!” and waved. Even the second graders, who I don’t teach, whispered about me. Several of them stared which I caught so I said hello and waved.
In the late afternoon before leaving, G came by to see if I had an umbrella. It has started to rain and she was worried I would get wet. I work with some very kind people.
The gym has much better showers than my studio apartment, so I feel much more motivated to go in the evenings. A showerhead that’s attached to a wall? And gets hot? Luxury living.
The benchpress had weights on it still and I didn’t want to interrupt anyone’s work out so I stopped a guy in between sets nearby and successfully asked:
“저기요. 누구 사용해요?” Excuse me, who’s using this?
“아무도” No one.
Woo! Success! I’m not sure if he communicated this to his trainer buddies because when I left two of them made sure to say goodbye and bow. I told a close friend this and she said “one of us one of us”.
On Saturday I met another teacher friend and we hiked Achasan. I was able to find my Guri fruit stand but I’m not sure if it was the same set of men as that fateful summer day. It’s an easy hike but personally one of my favorites, with city views to the west and mountain views to the east.
Even though this hike is within Seoul city limits, I heard several children turn to their mom or dad and say “look! There are foreigners!”
An older gentleman had a long chat with us in Korean, so long that his other gentleman friends left him behind. He wanted to make sure that we didn’t get lost which was very sweet. He turned to my friend to explain the map and she looked at me helplessly. I told him “she’s level one. I’m level two”.
We saw him again at the top of the mountain and both he and I said “hey it’s you!” but in two different languages.
It’s really great to see how my Korean has come along since first moving here. And I found his way of speaking easier to understand than the people at my school.
After spending most of the day wandering the mountain peaks, we went to a hole in the wall restaurant with quite literal holes in the wall to get rice wine and a seafood pancake. My friend carries around a note in Korean that says in essence if you feed her tree nuts she will die. A nice young couple at the other table tried to assist by pointing to rice wine and saying “rice”. I asked the woman later what they were eating and she said in the slowest Korean I have heard, “모. 두. 부.” I love the Guri area. It’s as east as you can to before you’ve hit city limits but it’s a great combination of residential, scenic, local, and accessible. The people are very kind and it makes me wonder if smaller cities throughout Korea are more like this.* Inner Seoul sometimes has that busy cold city feel.
We followed our standard hiking meal with coffee at a place across the street with the most interesting bathroom I have yet to come across. The toilet was on a pedestal that you had to climb steps up to but you couldn’t sit all the way up on the toilet or your head would hit the ceiling.
I ordered from the cute boy at the counter in Korean. My friend came up next and ordered in English to which he responded with… Perfect English. I wonder how many secretly brilliant English speakers have I come across without knowing? No matter. I really appreciate the people let me try in Korean. It’s the only way to learn. (But also lets be friends).
We declared at the coffee shop that we should make use of our time in the big city and go out on the town. So we decided to regroup around midnight in a popular college district.
As I was waiting for my friend, I ordered a hotdog which is actually a corn dog because Konglish and ate it under the tent flaps. A few minutes later I saw the owners husband hacking and spitting and smoking a cigarette.
It’s quite possible that the corn dog may be my last meal.
Strangely enough, I ran into PhD when exiting the station. It still boggles my mind how I can run into anybody in a city of this size. He’s been a bit sharp with me since Halloween and I suspect we won’t be meeting anymore.
The night doesn’t end here but my story will: My friend and I sat on a bench in the children’s park. Nothing about the park is for children, it’s where most people go to drink their 7-11 bought alcohol (me included) and the playground was removed several years ago.
We watched two competing buskers and received a disturbing amount of thumbs up from people walking by, enough for us to wonder if someone was hiding behind us or if there was something very strange about our bench. A man next to us who was not an official busker was absolutely singing his heart out and I had half a mind to give him a quarter and request the Boys Over Flowers OST.
The last pair to entertain us was two army guys that were also part of a traveling brass band, one of whom absolutely fell in love with my friend. She doesn’t think so but I know so.
– eating like a Korean hiker
– chatting with kind ajushis and realizing I can communicate successfully (sometimes)
– flagging down a cab and successfully making my way home in Korean (the taxi man chuckled kindly at my fumbles and was patient with me, thank you sir)
*This thought will consume me and later greatly influence my decision to move to a smaller city in Korea after the Seoul teaching contract ends.