Yesterday, S invited me to her classroom at 1:30pm to visit. C was asleep at her desk when I slid through the sliding door, unbrewed coffee in hand as an offering to S.
We ended up chatting for two hours about all kinds of things: birth control, plans, family, school gossip. I don’t know if this is only S, her group of friends, or Korean women her age, but she is woefully unaware of birth control outside of condoms. She said, “I don’t think medicine is healthy for the woman’s body,” to which I had to respond, “well, oral pills for women actually decrease risk of cancer”.
I told her about IUDs and she leaned in like we were plotting against the government instead of discussing a common, fifty year old technology. And all of these are available in Korea, although it doesn’t seem to be taken advantage of very often. Unlike the US, you can walk into any pharmacy and ask for oral contraceptives over the counter. You don’t even need to show ID and there doesn’t seem to be a limit on how many you can buy at once. It’s not covered by insurance but a one month pack costs 8,500 won ($7).
“Most Koreans don’t talk about this,” she admitted, but I don’t know if this pertains only to her and her circle.
I did learn how married couples practice birth control (I’ll leave it up to you to guess) and that vasectomies are common after the third child, which makes sense to me.
S also told me that the office staff would be rotating out to another school next week. “What??” I exclaimed in delighted shock. C later told me she thought it was only the office manager, so after next week we’ll know for certain.
“I think the office manager is a calm man.” S said, and I agreed, “yes, he seems like a good boss”. Even if he and his team are scared of foreign women.
Sometime during this conversation, one of S’s students came in to retrieve a forgotten book. It turns out half of our makeshift tea table was that student’s desk.
I suspect the student told everyone in class that S and I are friends, or close enough to have snacks in her classroom together, because the next day at lunch half of S’s class (including one boy I know from daycare who is never afraid to say hi and I love him for that) said “HELLO!” when I walked past their table.
Later, as I organized the five folders I have for this visa crisis, I asked C if she had any large envelopes.
“I can’t find any but the office staff might have some.”
“Oh.” I groaned. She laughed and suggested we try the resource room.
I told C, after she led me to there to find manila envelopes to spare me the ten cent cost at the post office, that the resource lady reminded me of a stern librarian. I feel like I’m always doing something wrong when I go in there.
“Oh, I’m sure she’s just shy,” C explained.
I held in my scoff. C, not everyone can be shy!
Today I had another interesting conversation with C and I’ve come to realize that many Koreans believe America is a wondrous dreamland where women ignore their mother in laws and don’t clean the house, teenagers are all attending Gatsby-esque parties and sleeping with each other, no one is poor, and kids can ditch their parents at any time.
I asked C where Koreans get these ideas. “Videos and Americans and other people who went to America.” But wait a minute, if no one talks to foreigners due to Englishphobia, then from whom pray tell does this information come?
The worst type of foreign man comes here looking for a traditional housewife and the worst type of Korean man searches for a foreign girlfriend because he thinks she’s promiscuous and he won’t ever have to take her home to momma.
Seems we could all benefit from a little education.
I feel like I spend a lot of time explaining that America is not free from basic human social constraints. We don’t eat only bread, some kids still get spanked, and even in the most egalitarian of straight relationships the burden of housework and childcare often falls to the woman.
I really do wish America were this Korean dreamland but it’s not. It’s like any other place: we struggle, we fight, we hate, we love, and we, too, want change.