After five months, today was the day: students began to return and I could eat school food in the cafeteria. But like a funhouse mirror it was wrong in the most important ways, a grotesque imitation of everything to which I had originally looked forward.
It cracked the top five most depressing lunches and was only rescued by some (former) grade four boys waving to me.
But Korea gives me lows and highs in the same day, I just need to wait.
I exited the school at closing time and heard chatter of “Abigail teacher” that were not secret. Former grade four boys across the field identified me and then shouted “hello Abigail teacher!”
God I love these kids so much.
I caught up with them. There were two of my boys plus one tiny and adorable addition.
Now, recruiters and the Office of Education say never speak to your students in Korean. I felt a bit guilty and figured maybe I should try English for a bit.
Brother? I asked regarding the smallest in English.
Brother, the middle boy confirmed in Korean.
I quickly let go of any superficial notion of making them practice English.
“Your little brother is so cute“ I said and the tall boy agreed quietly but firmly with “cute“.
They commented my Korean is good so I told them that’s because I study hard:
“공부 열심히 했으니까” is what came out of my mouth, unprompted. This is never a phrase I have written or said before so I think my peripheral Korean osmosis skills do work after all.
The tallest boy had on a black mask that had started to shred on the bottom and looked like a beard. I pointed it out to the middle boy who cracked up and thought it was hilarious then explained to the tall boy who pretended to stroke his cotton goatee.
We continued to joke around as we rounded the corner and I realized by the smile in jolly security guard’s visible eyes he had witnessed the whole scene. The tall boy who I’ve run into before in the same building where I go to the gym asked if I was going to the gym today, too. To do weights, right? He confirmed. The boys told me they were all going straight home.
We parted ways at the security hut where they had to get their bikes. I had walked about a block away when I heard the youngest brother shout my name and dart out from the school gates to look at me one last time.
I have missed my kiddos so much.
I went to the gym like I promised the tall boy and after I worked out where I made sure to establish my dominance by doing as many pull-ups as possible, I showered and got ready to leave.
I was naked and blow drying my hair when I noticed a woman wearing a moisturizing face mask materialized a box of mandu and gave it to an older woman I had seen earlier near the stretching station. The older woman was delighted and tried to pass off a dumpling to whoever walked by, clothed or not. I watched it all happen behind me in the mirror and wondered in passing if I would be offered one, too.
My thoughts must have been loud because she did! Face mask lady asked me very slowly if I speak Korean to which of course I surprised them both! Dumpling lady understood everything I said and kept speaking faster and faster until mask lady told her to slow down. I bowed and said “yes please speak slowly” and she cackled. She pawned off another dumpling on me and I stood there nude munching on a dumpling in one hand, hair brush forgotten in the other.
The ladies asked if I was an English teacher (yes) at a cram school (no). They were surprised I worked at the local public school and later I heard mask lady quietly spreading the deets to other moms who came in to the locker room. Well, all the students’ mothers are going to know what I look like without clothes! Their kids already bring home wild stories of me (Abigail teacher arm wrestled a kid!) and this will really cinch my cool (?) status.
I bowed and said goodbye and thank you to the two ladies upon leaving and they cheerfully said goodbye, I’m sure to gossip with the remaining ladies about the new info they obtained.
Do I see more dumplings in my future? I can dream.
It was exactly the kind of moment I love the most: local, unrepeatable, eccentric.