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.

August 24, Last Day of School

I wish I could tell you that something special and exciting happened during school my last day but it wasn’t much different than the last few months of this contract. C did have us play a game with the fifth graders so I did have more interaction than usual. Plus, I didn’t cry so that was good.

We waited to tell the kids that it was my last day until the very end of class and they didn’t do much more than say goodbye. Of course one boy from last semester who I remember bowing in a 90° angle after he committed a grave error said “You can’t leave! Don’t forget us!”

Luckily I had already felt distant the last few months so this lukewarm goodbye wasn’t as heartbreaking or disappointing as I had expected. S invited me to her classroom where she gave me a very meaningful note and a cheesy but cute nightstand made out of one of our selfies.

I was hoping to make it through the day without more awkward goodbyes but alas the new subject teachers wanted to pull together for one last awkward meeting to say farewell. The female science teacher is going on leave for six months so it was a dual session.

C gifted the two of us a special set of tea from Jeju. E asked me what I would do when I got back to the states and I told her I hope to return to Korea very soon. She didn’t listen to my answer because her next question was “Are you going to get a job? Are you going to school?“

Luckily the little party lasted no more than 15 minutes and I just ate a tangerine to avoid any further explanation. We eventually parted ways and before E went back to her classroom she told me “if you ever come back to Korea let me know so we can meet up and hang out”

Because I am gracious I didn’t call her on her bold faced lie and agreed. We didn’t meet up this semester, not once, so I don’t hold her to anything.

C led me down to the principal and vice principal’s office to say an official goodbye. The principal, imposing as ever, invited me into her office while the stray cat that she once talked to instead of me curled around her legs. At least it gave me something to talk about.

Finally the day was over and as we walked walked out to the parking lot C admitted that she would miss me and that she also envies me.

I found out later that she is jealous of my freedom and sometimes regrets not moving to Jeju when she had the chance. She said she gave up the job because her mom didn’t want her to go.

I’m not entirely sure I imagined the tears in her eyes when we hugged goodbye.

The whole day was fairly anti-climactic but that was expected. However, I couldn’t let things end that way so I decided to say my own goodbyes to the neighborhood.

I took photographs of the graffiti and other sites that caught my eye.

A group of 8 feet tall middle school boys passed by me and I heard a distant hello. I turned around and said hello, much to their surprise, and a few more of them echoed their peer. A few moments later I heard one say 안녕 only for his friend to chastise him for using casual language with an adult. Good boy.

My wanderings took me to the base of the local mountain and I decided once again to climb it in a dress. It’s fairly low and not very steep but my journey was interrupted by an older woman flinging her arms out and physically preventing me from continuing on the path.

She turned me around and led me down by the small of my back explaining in an urgent whisper that there’s a strange man. I didn’t get all the details but I think she meant he was exposing himself to passersby. I was incredibly grateful in that moment then for her concern and prevention. And wow what a way to end the afternoon.

The previous day I had given away some kitchen and housewares to a local Hungarian student who is actually quite nice and we ended up meeting again for dinner.

It was a bit like the magic had worn off on the second date and I think she just needed someone to talk to about the hard time she’s been having. Nevertheless she did give me some brownies she made and also asked me to text her when I got to Busan to let her know that I arrived safely since traveling alone can be difficult.

The rest of the evening was spent digesting dinner and shoving things into suitcases. The next day, after all, would be much much more important.

August 21

C: Have you received any maintenance bill?

Me: Huh?

C: Or when you first moved in, was the landlady there? Or the real estate agent?

Me: Nope, it was just me and S. Honestly I don’t think the landlady has ever come in to look at the apartment in the five years an English teacher has lived here.

C: So what needs maintenance in the apartment?

Where do I begin…

Me: the cable doesn’t work, the microwave doesn’t heat up, the bed frame came apart, the AC is dirty as you know, oh and the light fixture is broken. To be fair, I broke that.

I left out the part about the flies that seem to multiply overnight regardless of how often I take out my trash or clean the drains.

C: Is the light noticeable?

Me: Uh yeah I think so.

(The cover is a giant white bowl and without it, the foot long halogen bulbs are very out of place.)

C: Then if she notices it I’ll just tell her it was the previous teacher. If she tries to overcharge for any maintenance I’ll argue with her.

Damn, C is hardcore! A friend said I am slowly adding more Koreans to my gang.

Regardless, my boxes have been packed and shipped, I’ve sold and donated just about everything in the apartment and my fate will be decided Tuesday.

August 20, Surprise Party

I got in to school and promptly received an email from S asking if I was free at 11.

“We are going to have a party for you in male music teacher’s room,” she told me, and I lamented having not washed my hair.

I got to the classroom and on the board were kind words from S along with a few balloons, and a spread of desserts across the makeshift desk table. All the previous subject teachers from last semester gathered, and male music teacher (well, now a homeroom teacher) made pour over coffee like old times and acted as our emcee. He grinds my gears I admit but at least he acknowledges me. And he emceed very well.

Two of the teachers had gotten me gifts– a tumblr and hand crocheted scrunchies (they are coming back in style here in Korea).

S told me the golden scrunchie would match my hair color perfectly.

I’m a brunette.

I pointed this out to her and she gestured to her dark brown hair and then to mine to say “our hair color is different”.

“Yes, but I’m not blonde. Brown can exist on a spectrum…”

“Okay, okay! Don’t get angry,” she said, in her catchphrase when I play argue with her about semantics.

The five of us chatted and it was like old times. Warm and easy. S promised that she had a gift for me and that it “was arriving”. She later texted me asking for my “favorite selfie” and now I’m a bit worried I’m about to get a blanket with my face…

The party didn’t last too long since the teachers all had plans to go out to lunch with their various grade teams so we parted ways.

I was nervous that S might spill the beans about my complicated visa situation but she told everyone, “Yes, she is moving back to the US. I hope she can return to Korea some day” with such seriousness that I thought she might have actually forgotten.

Of course, as soon as we lost the other subject teachers she asked me if I’d figured out my shipping situation.

I realized then that S was really my ride or die.

Over the last month I’ve collected gifts for S and C but wanted to make a final purchase to complete S’s gift.

She and her family love macaroons, so during lunch I headed to the local macaroon shop (common as the dessert is very popular here) and ordered a box of eight from the jolly macaroon man who spent several minutes looking for a gift box and apologizing every minute.

I gifted S the macaroons, coffee candle, coffee soap, and hand written (and tutor edited) thank you note.

I think she teared up over the macaroons more than the letter.

“You are so sensitive. Is that the right word?”

“Thoughtful.”

She sent me a video later of her young son opening the box and I’ve never understood my grandmother more than as the moment I happily and proudly watched my quasi nephew open his gift and say thank you (with encouragement from S behind the camera).

August 15, Small Talk

Today is Liberation day and what with the rain and spike in cases I didn’t make many plans besides an eyelash perm appointment and promise to drop off housewares to an interested party to help lighten my moving load.

Before noon I made my way to the beauty shop only to find it dark and locked. I sat on the basement stairs and waited until the owner arrived with her disabled dog and exclaimed “oh my”.

Another young woman joined and the two of us lay down in silence while the lash lady prepared everything. I had a moment lamenting the lack of small talk in Korea until the owner started asking me in Korean where I was from.

When I said Florida, the young woman next to me, whose face I hadn’t seen as we both had our eyelids taped shut, made a noise of surprise.

She had studied English at UNF at its English Language Program.

“How funny, I was a teacher at UF’s English Language Program.”

“How can your pronunciation be so good if you’ve only been here a year?” The owner wondered aloud and my first thought was, how can I still be so far from fluent after a year, but second was to make a mental note to thank Hong Kong tutor for her clearly helpful teaching.

Our conversation went quiet as the owner moved on to other customers’ lashes and I ended up falling asleep like an old man.

When the owner finally wiped the solution from my eyelashes I sat up, bare feet pulled onto the bed like a kid, and chatted with her and UNF while she dyed UNFs lashes.

“Your eyes have a sparkle…” the owner told me.

“That’s probably the tears from the chemicals.”

The owner conspired with UNF and said I really seem Korean. And that I should be on Korean TV.

I agree! But how?

“Should I just go knock on the studio door of JTBC and introduce myself?”

(My wildest dream would be to guest star on the variety show 아는 형님.)

The owner didn’t have a good suggestion for how I should start my Korean TV career but I appreciate her support nonetheless.

They asked what my parents thought of Korea and Korean food and the only thing that came to mind was how they didn’t like the fish crackers I mailed them.

“Uh they don’t like fish” is what came out of my mouth.

The two women mentioned something about dog meat and that really people don’t eat it anymore and it’s a shame that perception still exists.

I said that I’d seen dog meat being sold at one of the markets in Seoul only once (like, the whole dog) but understood that in hard times people ate what they had to. And that it makes sense that the generation that survived those times may keep eating the same meat. It’s really only culture that dictates what is “acceptable” to eat.

“Back in the day Americans ate all kinds of meat like squirrel and snake. But these days they forget.”

UNF shot me a thumbs up while the owner side eyed me in wonder and said I really think like a Korean.

(Later I would wonder: do I seem Korean? Or am I just doing well at connecting with others outside of cultural boundaries? Is empathy and language ability the secret to assimilation? Or have I been Korean all along?)

The three of us continued to talk in Korean about cultural differences, or rather, similarities as I explained that the American South is not so different from traditional and conservative Korea. Something I said made the owner lean over and hug me, like really hug me, American style. She squeezed some of my odd jostled feelings from these final days back into place.

She’s like the cool aunt. I love her.

With my arms wrapped around my knees I looked at UNF’s one untaped eye and shyly asked if she had time, would she like to have coffee with me after this? It’s not every day I meet a Florida person.

She agreed and the owner who UNF started calling unnie* at some point nodded in approval like a proud mom.

Two other women had come in at some point and I can only imagine their entertainment, or confusion, at hearing the back end of our exchange.

We got up to leave and the owner grabbed my arm. “Wait, this came out so well. I need to take a picture.”

Will I end up on her Naver blog? One can only hope.

UNF and I left and I guided her to my near and favorite local cafe.

She studied at UNF in 2010, which was the same year I had taken a road trip with my roommates to visit our friends on campus. It’s possible we crossed paths and didn’t even know it.

Life is amazing like that.

She told me that she met her boyfriend there, only for him to leave her for their Korean-American friend.

“They got married.”

“Oh my god. Did you go?”

“My brother went to the wedding but I didn’t. I was so angry with him.”

She also told me in addition to getting a graduate degree and working at a hotel, she’s studying for her Korean language teaching license. I’m sure it’s why she spoke so clearly and patiently with me.

As it had been ten years since she studied English, we spoke in Korean. I marveled in a quiet moment how far I’d come in Korean, and then promptly hit my head on an electrical outlet above my chair. Why it’s placed there I can’t say but I jabbed my head on that exact outlet when I brought my Thai friend to this cafe before COVID so it’s really my fault.

She told me she also lives in the area in an apartment that’s too expensive.

“And the quality is not good,” I added, thinking of the five flies I kill every morning as a part of my daily routine.

She nodded vigorously.

“After I graduate I’ll either stay here or move back in with my parents or… get married and get an apartment. What am I saying, I don’t even have a boyfriend.”

“Eh, you don’t need one.”

She had to leave for work so we headed out. Before we parted ways she suddenly grabbed my hand and pulled me over a puddle and out of the way of a moving car.

Our “romance” was not over— after we parted ways at the intersection I heard her voice call me. She ran towards me with her phone in hand and asked:

“Do you have Instagram?”

Well, okay, not what I was expecting.

It’s like your summer fling finally finding you at the end of the move only to ask what your twitter handle is.

Ah well, such is life. We exchanged social media info though I warned her I don’t use it much and then we parted ways for real.

I couldn’t help but think that sometimes life gives you what you need but only when you don’t ask. And I can’t help but feel grateful for my life because even in dull or hard times I can still have moments like these, moments of connection and moments of surprise, and life can continue to amaze in the strangest of circumstances.


*Koreans use special words to address people close to them. 언니 (Unnie) literally means big sister and is what younger girls call their older female siblings. It is also used by women towards their older female friends to whom they feel close. Changing from names to these terms shows a change in one’s relationship. For example, S has told me to call her 언니.

There are also terms of endearment like this for younger women to older men, younger men to older men, and younger men to older women. If you watch Korean dramas you’ll likely hear these words often:

형 hyung [lit: older brother] younger man to older man. For example, the office manager called the older makgeolli man this which blew my mind.

오빠 oppa [lit: older brother] younger woman to older man. These days it has taken on a very romantic context so I don’t call my male Korean friends this even though we’re close. I’ve heard some Korean women have started to call their older male friends hyung to remove any romantic context (love it). I actually got confused because UNF friend called both her brother and her ex boyfriend oppa in conversation.

누나 noona [lit: older sister] younger man to older woman. There is a category of romance dramas called noona dramas. I love them. They are my life’s blueprint.

언니 unnie [lit: older sister] younger woman to older woman

August 13, The Grass is Greener

C asked me about Busan and sighed wistfully at my response.

“I’m really tired of Seoul,” she confessed, “I’ve only ever lived here. I want to try living somewhere else. But my family and my life and my new job…”

I heard what she said and everything she didn’t. Family obligation, a long term boyfriend who doesn’t want to move, a five year contract at this school.

I asked her when these thoughts came up and she said they’ve been around for the last few years. She had secured a job at an international school on Jeju this year but ultimately declined in favor of keeping her life here.

Regret is the wrong word but the sigh had some bitterness in its resigned acceptance. I wanted to tell her that her younger sister could take care of her mom (all three live together). That her boyfriend and Seoul could wait.

I understand her, though, even if I wouldn’t do the same.

Still hurts. So much of young Koreans’ pain seems to be self inflicted. The internalized filial piety, a market of cutthroat image and status competition, rising housing costs in a city whose real estate speculation is about to implode… like Americans, none of it is required but still is heavily implied for one to succeed.

Sometimes I am overcome by this feeling I’m supposed to be living a glamorous and important life. I’m not even sure what that would entail except that I would be respected, connected, and never think twice about buying name brand at the grocery store.

It’s a feeling I get when I pass through rich financial districts with sparkling skyscrapers winking in the late hours. I don’t want to be that poor office worker at 9pm but my brain sometimes cannot compute that grass seems greener on the other side.

I wonder how much of it is my own neuroses and how much is residual imprint from the childhood education of a gifted kid. You can be special or you can be nothing.

Maybe it’s that in HBC and Namsan and Gwanghwamun people seem to be living easily and with purpose. I mean, he’s wearing a suit and has a watch! He must be doing something right.

Right?

Maybe it’s because over there restaurants seem warm and inviting, stores accessible, and life comfortable. On my side of town I see dead mice and once tripped over a knife in the street. Welcoming is not the word I’d use for my neighborhood.

Maybe it’s none of those things and is instead the gap between expectation and reality.

C and I are not so different in that we are both trying to understand where that gap is and what it means for us.

I imagined living in Seoul would afford me that glitz and glam; instead I have to turn on music so I don’t hear the alley cats fighting each other. Maybe I can one day aim to live in glamor, just to say I did and that it was in fact not any greener.

Don’t get me wrong, my neighborhood offers lots of unique experiences that I certainly wouldn’t find in places like Gangnam.

This entire train of thought started about halfway through my hair appointment in HBC, an international neighborhood with beautiful hilly views and diversity I don’t normally see in Korea.

The stylist asked what I was doing after my appointment and I paused. I didn’t have any plans, should I?

I wandered the neighborhood back to Itaewon and was amazed by the greenery, the trails, the English menus. Life could be this easy?

I started to think about the haves and the have nots and wondered about my life going forward.

The clamp down by the CCP in the last year has put a serious pause on any China plans I had. And for English teaching, China is where the money is.

I had planned to work in a hardship country like China to stash away funds so that upon eventual return to the US I could secure some property and have money to take care of my parents when they’re older.

In Korea, Taiwan, Japan… the markets are saturated and salaries are low.

I’ll have to reassess after my next Korean contract. Who knows what the world will look like in 2022? And if there’s ever a point where my career doesn’t serve me, I have the freedom to pivot into one that does.

I would like to get a Master’s— likely in applied linguistics but potentially a hard science depending on what life looks like in the future. I have no desire to teach public school in the US which leaves me with the eventual question of, what will I do when I go back?

Before I’ve considered real estate, professorship, international business of some sort, or foreign policy. Or a hodge podge. Or something else entirely.

But I don’t want to go back yet, teaching is calling, and I want to do my best while the world still wants to learn my language.

Now I’m just happy to take a break to do what I love most and study language.

Prepare your inbox for posts about grammar that I enjoy writing and no one enjoys reading.

August 12, Small Talk

One of the newer PTs in a purple t shirt checked me in today at the gym. Since we’re still living in COVID times, I’ve had to write my name and other personal information on a sign in sheet since April.

He gestured to a phone on a stand at the desk but I didn’t quite know what he meant. I think there’s an app? I don’t know.

He said something about coronavirus and I said I prefer to sign the paper since I didn’t really understand the phone situation. That was fine with him and as I was filling out the sign in sheet, he read my address upside down and commented in surprise that I lived far so why come here?

I told him I work in this area and he commented that my Korean was really good. Of course, I said no.

“Do you work at a hagwon?” He asked with surety.

Hagwons are after school academies where students cram for exams. There are a lot of English hagwons and a lot of horror stories about working for them.

“No.” I said.

“Oh,” he answered in somewhat surprised awe.

Saying “English teacher” here can sometimes come with the stereotype of being an underqualified backpacker who terrorizes Korean citizens with heavy drinking and promiscuity.

I had a weird moment where I wondered at what point would teaching English be respected.

It’s definitely a strange turn for me coming from an industry with plenty of accolades, pomp, and circumstance. In my past life I could just say “engineer” and people would immediately comment how I must be so bright and accomplished, regardless of if I deserved praise.

I would be lying if I said I don’t feel cognitive dissonance still. And I wish I could care less about other’s respect but that’s a challenge for next year. One step at a time. I still have to get my visa and also learn Korean so I can be featured on local variety shows. Fame pending!

The PT asked how long I’ve been in Korea but he had to repeat himself since I didn’t quite understand his question. I told him a year which surprised him again. He said once more “your Korean is good”.

He was the first person under 50 to make small talk with me and I am very grateful for him. Thank you, young PT sir! You made my day!

August 10, Immigration

Phone class lasted about a thousand years. This week I have fifth and sixth grade campers and 20% of students actually did the online work. When it came time for the practice phone call, the other 80% made time screech to a halt.

One student told me he didn’t have the worksheet even though C had confirmed with him twice before that he did, another was typing in the background in a desperate bid to translate answers quickly, and many more were shuffling around papers and had no idea what I was asking.

Why in the world did your parents sign you up for optional summer camp if you don’t have the intrinsic motivation or oversight to complete the work?

I aged a month in one morning and told C it’s going to be a long week. The students who are interested are really interested, so there’s a silver lining. The older sister to the girl last week told me she likes Linkin Park and wants to go to Texas to see Kelly Clarkson. Is she me?? I talked with her a few extra minutes because I knew she wanted to improve speaking and actually has interest in English.

We called one boy four times and by the last call, he finally picked up only to say “I’m eating lunch”. We rightly gave up on him.

Last week and this week shine a light on the gulf of experience that I not only have between grades but between my school and other schools. I’m in a low socioeconomic area which is mostly demonstrated by lack of parent involvement, whether intentional or not. The parents of the third graders seem to be very involved but by fifth and sixth grade, I’m right back to students who simply don’t do the work.

It makes my job very, very hard.

What if all my students, or even a majority, were like third grade?

A girl can dream.

I didn’t have any emotional room left as it was all taken by my impending immigration trip. I darted out of school at 12:25, withdrew the visa fee from my ATM, and hailed a cab. A small splurge during a stressful day.

As my worry mounted, the cab driver finally jerked to a stop in front of Seoul Immigration. Like many cab drivers trying to avoid taxes, he asked that I pay in cash which I refused this time– got to save it for the immigration official.

I entered the crowded office, no different than the DMV, where a comforting waft of foreign sweat greeted me. My people!

Since immigration randomly decided to make the day of my other appointment a holiday, I had to come in and show the cancellation message to a young man who said, “just go to any empty chair”.

“Uh, right now?” I asked in concern.

“Yeah,” he replied, already halfway back to his information booth.

I sat down in a chair where I couldn’t even see the immigration official due to strategic computer and paper placement. She said nothing so I gathered my documents and pushed them through the glass hole.

“You’re working until the 24th.” She said.

“Yes, but my visa ends on the 25th which only gives me one day to change visas so I wanted to come early.”

“You can’t apply early. You need to come back on the 25th,” she said so quietly that I had to stand halfway up in a crouch and put my ear to the glass air holes.

“Okay then… can you tell me if my documents are correct so when I come back I can be sure I’m ready?”

“You need to have a bank statement.”

“I have my bankbook right here.”

“No, you need a form from the bank,” she explained tonelessly. She seemed rather young to already be dead inside.

After I asked, she jotted down the form in Korean and the amount I should have to be approved. I stared at the paper, and she grudgingly rewrote her chicken scratch.

I still can’t read the document name but C later corrected for me.

For all that nothing had been done, I felt relieved that at least I had a practice run. Still, I was concerned that this magical bank document was never mentioned on any forum or even the immigration hotline.

I called the immigration hotline again after the 1.5 hour commute back to my apartment.

The woman, with an unexpected Indian accent, told me that particular bank document is not required but if the officer is asking for it I need to bring it.

Well okay then. Can you tell me any other secret documents they’ll reveal only the day of my appointment?

“Don’t worry, they’re not going to make you illegal,” she commented when I told her my concern about having a single day to switch visas.

“Uh…” I mumbled, as someone from a country where people are regularly and actively deported.

I asked about a student visa but I’ve already missed the deadline (needs to be more than two weeks in advance). Immigration seems incredibly nonchalant about my visa situation so I can only assume everything will turn out okay.

I texted C briefly to let her know and she said it was a sign I should come back to Seoul. She also gleefully reminded me that Gyeongnam doesn’t have subways– interesting take coming from someone who drives everywhere. I didn’t tell her l her that I prefer the bus.

I don’t think being held hostage by my visa is a sign to stay in Seoul but I appreciate her (in)attempts to reel me back. It’s always nice to feel wanted, even if the timing is a bit late.

There’s really nothing more to do but pack, get the document from the bank, and hope I get approved. Otherwise I’ll end up in… immigration jail? Is that a thing in Korea? To be determined.

Ah well, life is all about the journey. Or catastrophe.

2020 is about the same at this point.

August 7

“Who is your hero?”

“My hero is my dad. He makes lots of money. He is number one in his company.”

I had to hold back the laughter so I just told this camp student that he did very well and great job.

After I hung up I turned to C and told her that I just heard the most Korean thing in the world.

Another camper uploaded her very beautiful superhero comic featuring Gamora with emphasis on her “beautiful body” and “attractive hair”. I told C to please tell the student in Korean it sounds a bit better to say cool or beautiful hair.

“Oh really? We use that in Korean all the time.” C remarked and I resisted another English weary sigh.

I wasn’t sure if she meant in Korean-English or simply in Korean. But either way it sounds very awkward in English and I explained that attractive often mean in a sexual or romantic context so it’s a bit odd to describe hair that way.

She was blown away once again.

“Wow, so many sexual meanings,” she said to herself, thinking of “perverse” from earlier in the week.

I of course thought again of what I mentioned yesterday of the Korean education system and the importance of not relying on a single dictionary for translation. Context is everything.

Today marks the last day of third and fourth grade camp and one of my lower performing students who struggles in live class finished her comic with all correct sentences. I was so proud!

Another student told me her hero was Warren Buffett because he makes a lot of donations which was quite surprising. I also realized that student looked very similar to one of our sixth grade students: same hair, glasses, voice. It turns out my hunch was right in the older girl is in fact her sister.

Since C had promised to come to the bank with me yesterday we left school around 12:40 after I had another fight with the printer. Of course, as you can guess, Asia Time.

I wanted to get a print out in my bank book of my most recent balance which was easy. While I was there I also asked to see if C could raise my transfer limit since I was blocked at $300. When I had to pay tuition to Busan, I had to pay it over the course of four days which was a little bit annoying.

Well well well.

It turns out I was asking for too much and I had angered the gods of Asia Time. The teller told us that I needed a document from school to prove that I was still working if I wanted to raise my limit. I cannot say why this was required since I was already at the bank with all of my documentation and had that bank account with monthly direct deposits for 11 months. I was annoyed but not surprised so C patiently guided us back to school to the last group of people I wanted to see. The office staff.

They were about as awkward as normal and the old guy, you may remember him from our drunken makgeolli night, avoided eye contact not once but twice. The young woman ignored me as usual and talked to C and the older woman had a long conversation with C in which she asked about final payments for the apartment utilities.

C told me later she was a caught off guard at first because she thought she would have to spin another lie about me leaving for America. It turns out they just wanted to secure money for the final utility payments. I told C that my utilities are not much, usually about a dollar for water and $8 to $16 for electricity. C scoffed and said “if that’s it I will just pay myself”.

After waiting for about 10 minutes the young woman was finally able to print out whatever this magical document was and I asked for copies just in case. We finally left the room which used not a single gust of air conditioning in the quest to prove that the office staff can work frugally and the teachers should too.

We headed back outside which was somehow cooler than the office room and made our way back to the bank where suddenly 20 people had appeared in line. Our waiting time was now 20 minutes and I could feel the sweat starting to run down my legs.

The same teller, whose saving grace was making extensive eye contact with me even though she was only talking to C, called us up. It took even longer, maybe 20 more minutes, to raise the transfer limit for online banking. I didn’t bother with the additional documents needed for raising the transfer limit at the ATM or Teller.

I feel that I can’t hold in my frustration at the bank because the process always seems unnecessarily complicated and tedious. I nearly cried the first time S and I went to set up the account and had to return two or three times then, too.

Like I said, Asia Time.

Somewhere at the crosswalk I asked C what she does after our half days.

“I meditate. Corona has been difficult for me. I was stressed and a little depressed. How did you feel?”

Girl.

“Yes, earlier in the year things were very difficult. Are you doing better now?” I asked, remembering that the book she was reading a few months ago was a guide for sensitive people living in an insensitive world.

“A little better now but sometimes a little depressed.”

The pandemic seems to have affected the world about the same mentally.

We left the bank for the last time and parted ways at the gym entrance.

“You didn’t eat lunch, will you be okay?” Asked C with concern.

My heart!

I told her I’d eaten a snack and would be okay. She went back to school to do a few more things.

After the bank trial and gym I fell into bed at 6pm and, deeming cooking too exhausting, ordered a whole roasted fish for dinner via delivery. There was the usual confusion with the delivery man but I finally returned to my bed to nom through a foot long mackerel and I had the time of my life.

I’m looking forward to and also hoping for good (and cheap!!) seafood in Busan. I would eat a roast fish every day if I could afford it.

Time is starting to lurch unevenly: weekdays are gone in a blink and Saturday mornings last about ten years.

I need to write thank you notes and finish selling off apartment wares but in the meantime I’m enjoying the little things and trying not to worry too much about the things I haven’t gotten to.