April 24

I dropped by S’s classroom to confirm our birthday lunch plans and she invited me to sit down and chat. She was happy to show off her class decorations, even though they used her entire school-allotted $47.

S tried to convince me that Seoul is the only city in South Korea worth living in and if I move people might not be familiar with foreigners and might not be friendly. I just laughed at her, have you ever heard of Korean country folk being mean? And I’m the only foreigner I see on this side of town.

“Well there are many Chinese here.”

I laughed again; as we saw with me and my Thai friend, Asian foreigners are rarely pegged as outsiders at first glance.

“Well I’m glad you’re staying, I’m going to come visit you. I’ll take the train. No husband or kids!”

It was a nice high before my afternoon stalled in disappointment.

My contract ends on August 24th and before the virus, those last 4 weeks would have been two weeks of summer camp and two weeks of vacation. The new school semester would have started on August 25th.

But because of the virus, the school semester now ends on July 28th and starts on August 19th, but between those two dates I have to work two weeks of English camp (as of right now) plus the first four days of the new semester and will only have five days of summer vacation.

But also because of the virus, I wasn’t able to use my planned holidays and currently have 10 unused vacation days with nowhere to spend them. There is no stipulation in my contract about getting money back for unused vacation time and as of right now, the city has made no changes to our contracts. So I should use as much as I can before leaving (but not so much immediately with the possibility that they change dates again).

I asked C if it would be possible to take off August 19th to 24th since that’s the start of the new semester and I have to leave the country by August 24th anyway. She asked the VP and head teacher but they said if there are classes I need to be here.

What? I stopped in my tracks.

I can’t miss the first four days of the new semester? Am I going to have to bring my suitcases to school on August 24th?

I tried to only let some of my disappointment show, enough to signal that I don’t agree with that decision but not so much that I seem selfish.

I ruminated on it while I took the garbage out. This time a guy stopped in his tracks to stare at me through the fence; I thought at first he was one of my students but no. A young high schooler. I hope— anything older would be too creepy.

The zoo parallel didn’t occur to me until later.

And I get it, to a point: the school is following the contract. And I’m grateful they haven’t done anything shady since I started working here.

But at the same time it’s so frustrating to hear all this baloney about “we’ll miss you/you have such good manners/don’t leave” and at the same time “we will make no exceptions for you”. I’m getting really mixed signals here! It makes me desperately want to call G so we can conspire about the problems at this school. These are unprecedented times, can we have just a little wiggle room?

Because this is Korea and things decisions are made up until the literal last hour, I’m sure this will all change in a few months.

I’m still disappointed in their response, though.

But I’ll never end in despair: I raised endorphins at the gym and got fried chicken, not spicy this time. There are always teenagers working part time handing out flyers by the subway station (this week it’s for the gym I already attend) and most of us take them out of pity. A very old grandpa who had clearly seen his final days at the gym at least fifteen years ago hobbled by with one in hand which absolutely warmed my heart.

Then I took the bus because the bus is my favorite. Tonight was popping: two uncles behind me were gossiping and their accents hinted at a different generation since their manner of speaking sounded rounder and friendlier, almost like they had dip tucked in their cheek. Two aunties were loudly chatting and two teenage boys who thought they were very cool had a conversation in the middle row. Yes, evening bus for the win!

And I got to smell my fried chicken all the way home.


Bonus

As C was leaving, she asked if her friend had contacted me.

“No,” I sighed.

“What?” She muttered to herself, “I will scold him. He asked first.”

He must have gotten appropriately lectured because I finally received a message from him tonight.

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