October 18, Tourist

The past two nights before sleep has come to me I’ve thought of my students with the tiniest bit of longing.

I thought about my hoarse-voiced third grader who improved so much and said hi to me instead of C; my little daycare kids on whom I got to test run my own classroom setup; Jeongyeon helping me make ramen at a convenience store in the dead of winter; the conspiratorial look of a third grader during G’s choral music; the girl who looked at me, I winked at her, and she winked back; my former sixth graders linking arms with me and catching me up on gossip; the little chorus of “hello, English teacher” from first graders during lunch; the new third grader who already knew the games I had since we played at daycare and he got to feel like a star; the fourth graders practicing their Chuseok bows to me; the students who hugged me, held my hand, let me pat their sweet little heads.

I miss kids. I miss kids a lot.

There are memories we have that keep us warm in colder moments.

It will be some time yet before I meet students in the classroom again. I tell people that I’m on a six month break, but the reality is my “break” is actually twenty hours of Korean class, 5 hours of homework, and an additional six hours of other work every week. Somehow I’m working more now than I was when I was employed.

Type As can’t rest so this is cathartic to me.

However, the intense class schedule which has been made more difficult by the fact that it is online, has left me surprisingly without time to be a tourist.

I made amends of that today.

After taking a nausea-inducing bus ride from lead-footed Busan drivers, I departed at Jagalchi Station and wandered north on the advice from House Owner. Before leaving we ended up chatting for 30 minutes and she offered to let me watch her roast coffee beans at her cafe one day. I squealed in excitement and told her I like to collect experiences (in Korean one “stacks” experiences or memories, instead).

BIFF Square is reminiscent of Myeongdong in Seoul and is clearly a tourist hot spot, even if I was the only non-Korean there. My meanderings by the fish market did earn me some stares. I made a note of all the food stalls I wanted to try then shoved my way through Gukje Market.

The vintage alley had that particular vintage clothes smell that was comforting and a woman exclaiming in Korean to her husband, “is there not a bathroom…?” was a mirror to my small-bladder lifestyle. I was wearing a romper so you know by fate that my endurance had dropped to zero.

Book Street made less of an impact on a Sunday and half the shops were closed.

I did take a picture of some famous stairs and then stopped on a whim at a cafe, ordered a sweet cream Einspanner, and watched a woman in an art studio across the alley paint a flower onto a large canvas. She caught me observing and after the second time, had her male acquaintance close the curtains.

Did I imagine the look he gave me upon leaving her shop? Why would you have sheer curtains if you hated people watching you?

Before leaving I navigated the bathroom next door. Like many Korean shops, this shop too did not have an attached bathroom and a key was required to enter a secret alley to access a weirdly arranged space with an elf door and an elevated toilet.

Korea makes very creative use of spaces in regards to restrooms. I once used one of these divorced bathrooms where the toilet was on a pedestal that required three stairs and the user to hunch while seated lest their head touch the ceiling.

I strode through a long row of fortune tellers, no English speakers I’m afraid, and ordered a 3,000 won chicken skewer from a cart on a busy corner. I came to regret that later when on a whim I wondered in the direction of the ocean and into a fish market where between men selling cleavers and buckets full of penis fish, a woman tried to drag me into her roasted fish restaurant. This is not the first time an active saleswoman has reached for my arm and it doesn’t phase me at all; Koreans don’t have much of a personal space bubble.

I was still full from the skewer and had to shake her off but I know next time where I can find roast fish, and every divorced retiree drinking soju at 4PM on a Sunday.

If I had a bigger kitchen, or rather knew how to cook fish, I would be happy to buy seafood from here and prepare.

As it was, I just observed the usual: big purple octopus blooming over buckets of ice, four foot long fish drifting listlessly in small tanks, lobsters longer than my arm, far too many penis fish, live pink speckled shrimp dancing, crabs being thrown into something like sawdust for patrons to take home, plumes of smoke from outdoor grills, skinny mackerel laid out like ribbons.

There are all sights I’ve seen before but I enjoy them every time.

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