Monday, September 29, 2008

I know. I haven’t been writing. And now my editor—the fabulous Virginia Johnson (more commonly known in my circle as “Aunt Gin”)—is on my butt about it. A clip from an email she sent me today:

“Have you ever really been in to a good book and were fed simply pages at a time? No opportunity to keep reading and enjoy a marathon session. No opportunity to read until your eyes grew tired. But handed a mere page or two at a time. It is like smelling grandma's pie come out of the oven and you are allowed to pick a few crumbs from the edge. Or like letting someone else control your portion of M & M's at a sitting instead of holding the bag yourself......

I will be straight here. I know the above paragraph is talking around what I am trying to tell you. I clicked onto the blog and no new update. I know you are busy and you have a life to live … but is a weekly update too much to ask? I know, I your fan base will ask for bi weekly, and then daily, and......So I guess I understand you have to be out living what you are writing. I just had to let you know how I was feeling.”

So I suppose I better write something. Anything. Truth is, I’ve been wanting to. I have post-its stuck to nearly every surface of my apartment. “Write about the teaching experience,” one says. “Write about the food,” is scrawled on another. “Write about the sartorial fabulousness that is South Korean fashion,” and “Write about your fading aversion to kimchi.” Oh, and then there’s the Seoul trip from this weekend. Let me just preamble that upcoming blog: I heart Seoul.

No time now, though, to devote the time that these topics demand. Just got a gift package from Mom and Dad (Um, I love you guys, like, more than is humanly possible? Splenda? Cinnamon? Clif bars, Orbit, spices and Poptarts a gogo? I almost started crying. Seriously.) and am therefore in too high an emotional state to concentrate on anything else. But in the meantime, a teaser, something new I’m trying. A column-style bit that I’ll call Encounters. Because there are many that deserve at least a word or two. Here goes:

A couple weeks ago, I jumped into a cab and recited the formula for getting back to my neighborhood: Gay-nah-ri-sah-cha. Pulled the door shut, cab now moving. The driver said something to me, and I did the hands palm-up, shoulders raised, “I don’t understand” shake of the head. He said something again. “No speak Korean,” I said. “Where are you from,” he said slowly. “Ah,” I said, feeling a bit of an ass. “United States.” He had been there, he said. I asked when. During the Korean War. Knowing that many Koreans hold ill feelings toward us Americanos in regards to that whole Korean war deal, I decided to change the subject. “I’m here teaching English,” I offered. Our eyes met in the rear-view mirror. “Koreans do not need English,” he said, rather caustically, I felt, and then really caustically, he added, “or Americans.” I said: “Oh. Okay,” and stared out the window for the rest of the ride.

Last Sunday, Sarah and I challenged a couple of our Western friends to a tennis match. What I love about Korea is that you can walk ten minutes in any direction, and you’re bound to find a tennis court. We planned to meet the gentlemen at a court we’d never been to, right across from a Christian church. We walked through the entry gate, and a Korean man was upon us immediately, motioning for us to follow him across two occupied courts to a vacant one. There were a man and woman sitting on the side. Sarah and I were directed to one side, and the man and woman rose and walked to the other side. We volleyed with them, half-court, for about ten minutes, and they were very good. The boys soon arrived, and we thanked our new Korean friends for the warm-up. After dinking around for about half-an-hour, a Korean man hurried up to me and Sarah and pointed to our feet. “Tennis shoes,” he said. “Yes,” I said. “Tennis shoes.” “No, running shoes,” he said, clearly irritated. “You need tennis shoes.” Busted. I used to palms-up, shoulder raise “I don’t know” look again. It worked. He left. We played. Then a man brought us four cups and a bottle of water. Were we paying for this? I wondered, in between I love Korea thoughts. A little while later, a man brought over a large bottle of beer. He tossed the water out of our cups, and refilled them with Hite. We weren’t sure what was happening, but we knew that—whatever it was—we liked it. Then the man motioned me out onto the court, and showed me a few maneuvers. Free. Gratis. I love Korea.

Last Friday, I ventured up the mountain again. It hurt much more than it did the first and second times. This is not good. Anyway, on the way down, I met an army of children, marching up the muddy incline, leaving barely any room for those in descent to pass. I became nervous that I might see children from my classes. I don’t know why I was nervous, really, but I was. The first familiar face I spotted in the throng belonged to Jack, a boy who had failed one of my tests two days earlier. I smiled at him, waved, and said, “Hello.” He ignored my greeting. Looked through me. I felt silly. I decided no more kiddie acknowledgment. Three minutes later I spotted Mike, who I’d recently had to move to the back of the classroom for being disruptive. I buckled and smiled. He ignored me. Looked through me. I was hurt. No more, I said to myself. They’re too cool for me, then I’m too cool for them. I averted my gaze to the trees. Who knows how many of them I passed during the last five minutes down. At the bottom, I began to run, and saw Kelly twenty feet ahead. That week, I’d told my Korean co-worker that Kelly was developing an attitude, and the Korean teacher had told Kelly to stop. I hadn’t meant for the Korean teacher to say anything. I wouldn’t say hello to Kelly, I decided, because she wouldn’t say anything back. I passed her, and she shot me a bewildered look, said nothing, no smile. Sad teacha.

Friday as I left my apartment for work, my neighbors were leaving, too. I’d never seen them face-to-face before, but I’d heard them plenty, and was sure that they’d heard me, too. Every morning, and every night. You see, I have this thing about silence, and I usually fix it by singing. Loudly. I hadn’t felt bad about it until seeing this cute, little old couple, smiling at me, motioning toward me window, trying to ask if I was the girl who’d moved in next door. Their warmness made me want to apologize. I pointed to my ears and asked, “Me too loud? Too loud?” The woman laughed, and the man turned away and started walking up the street. I laughed with the woman, and then walked past them up the street. I thought about asking one of the Korean teachers to write a note. Is my singing too loud? it would say, and at the bottom would be two penciled boxes, labeled Ne and Ani-yo. Yes or no. Please check.

This blog ended up being far lengthier that I had intended. I hope my editor is pleased. ☺

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