Monthly Archives: April 2011

If only i could be a vagabond…

…moving to a new city every few months. Not becoming known or committed to anyone or anything anywhere.

I miss Vietnam. I treated my two weeks there as a parallel universe; i convinced myself that nothing i did there mattered to the “real life” i led here in Seoul. I did whatever i wanted without a thought or a doubt. And i came back here feeling…different. I wouldn’t say “transformed;” not only is that way too cliché, but it doesn’t even really make sense. I felt more sure of myself, like i shouldn’t ever be afraid to do anything anymore. Like i hadn’t properly lived before i took that trip. Like i hadn’t trusted myself enough.

I’ve only just realized that i’ve been more confident in everything i’ve been doing since my return from Vietnam. I’m much more confident in my teaching, i’m more confident with people in general, i’m more confident in being myself at work, at a place, in a culture, where it’s probably not a good idea to be entirely myself. I don’t really give a shit about acting “Korean” at school anymore. I’m fed up with surface courtesies and the never-ending obsession with appearance. I hate feeling like i have to act Korean because i speak Korean. I hate that everyone there expects me to do so. It’s not fair that i have to take on all the responsibilities of a Korean teacher just because i’m capable of it. I don’t get paid nearly enough for that.

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Decay

The Dosa Man had relocated to a seedy alley with barely any foot traffic.  His cart was smaller, with a tiny square of a grill and not enough counter space for his mise.  I tried making dosas, failing with each attempt.  Too thick, too burnt, too fragile, too thin to hold the fillings…  The burner flames grew and shrunk and died of their own accord.  To the left were two slabs of cooked pork, black, prickly animal hair sticking out of the skin, big globs of fat bulging out of every crevice.  Dead meat, dry and tough as shrunken leather.  As dead as the stiff grey rat cadavers swept into dusty corners.

I was running inside the wet stairwells, my panicked footsteps ringing in the ominous open space.  I was in a boxed room, claustrophobic and defunct, dead creatures piled up in previously unknown nooks and crannies.

There was no way out of the building; its exits led to further exits which only led to growing piles of products, metal and plastic all hammered and melted into the same shape.

At the end, i was with a man, a man i had met that day.  We were alone in the store; it was locked up for the night.  All the red 80’s furniture looked like imprisoned toy soldiers, silenced and chained down to rest until the lights go on again in the morning, welcoming customers.  The shutters came down, landing on the concrete in a jangly mess, a shudder traveling up their neat, parallel spines.

We were trespassers who felt they had every right to be there.  Maybe we’re employees.  Well, who’s to say we aren’t?  We were two children in hiding, crouched underneath the counter, sketching a grandiose plan to pull the greatest prank ever; we were armed with a blueprint of the building.  I liked him; he liked me.  And we were just playing, two grown-ups having sex where they shouldn’t be.  And underneath our childlike hesitation, we really didn’t give a damn about what might happen to us.

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Old students

I had a student last year who once wrote in her journal about how much she hated me and my class.  A few weeks later, she wrote me an apology journal saying how sorry she was for being immature and resolving to work hard.  I don’t teach her anymore, but she’s the only one who makes sure to say hi to me every time she sees me in the hallways.

There was a student in 2-5 last year whose gaze always haunted me.  She had eyes like deep, empty wells, and not once had i seen even a hint of an expression on her face.  Never smiled.  She never said a word in class.  She always did other work in my after school class.  She wasn’t defiant; she was just blank and lifeless.  And then, during one of my last classes that semester, something changed in her:   she smiled for the first time.  I haven’t seen her since.

2-6 was always the quiet, obedient class.  There was a Vietnamese student in that class who never did any work for my class.  Her journal grades were a straight row of 0’s.  In my final lessons, however, she grew uncharacteristically attentive:   her eyes never left me.  And she had a constant smile on her face, the kind of smile you see on students who are genuinely enjoying your class and hanging on your every word.  She was always beautiful.  I saw her outside the school recently and said hi, and she gave me the biggest smile, one that i’ll never forget.

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