Thursday, 1 February 2007

Another typical day in Seoul, Korea.

So this morning I woke up as usual, poked around on the internet, started up the coffee maker (at eight in the morning, it's worth it to have the starbucks stuff on hand), and took my shower. I boiled an egg. (Boiling eggs is fun for me right now, because I just finally got the hang of it -- I'd always either do them half-raw or rubbery dry-yolk overcooked. I'm so pleased with myself for figuring this boiled egg thing out, I've been popping them like candy!) On the way to work, I bought a cinnamon swirl at the bakery I mentioned before, where they changed their baking schedule so I could have a cinnamon swirl every morning, instead of just on mornings when I was late.

Got to school, and before I even made it into the classroom, James was saying "teacheeeeerr" in that way Korean kids have perfected, where suddenly "No" can become a fourteen syllable word that requires a two octave vocal range to properly pronounce. He's telling on another student, who pushed him, or stepped on his foot, or looked in his show-and-tell bag without his permission. . . or something.

I'm thinking about implementing a policy where the student who did wrong gets punished, but the student who tattled gets an equal punishment. That's how tired I am of kids coming to teachers with their little "he looked in my book" disputes. We have a teacher named Eunice who's unreal: every time, she hears each kid out and gives them a reasonable solution to their problem. Listening to "he said I don't want to play with you" "no I didn't!" makes me want to chew holes into the inside of my cheek after a while. Her patience is laudable.

Right after that, Willy cracked me up by taking the stuffing out of me, teasing me about something I'd told his family when they invited me to his house: I'm good at cooking a bunch of foods, but I've never managed to successfully cook rice: I always make it too sticky, too dry, burnt at the bottom, or something (now that I've mastered boiled eggs, rice is next). Willy had the whole class poking fun at me about not being able to cook rice. It was funny.

Then, during break time, I was chatting with Caleb in the hallway, when right at waist-level, a little girl in a blue hooded sweater flies by us with her fists up in the air, in the "I'm a flying superhero" pose. On second glance, she has her sweater's hood pulled right over her face. It's Lisa: she has a hooded sweater with a mask on the hood, and eyeholes, so that she can be a superhero anytime she wants. Here she is, in superhero and in secret identity mode.

The boy with Lisa in the first picture is Andy, a funny little boy with gangly arms and legs who doesn't move around so much as he flops. As soon as he's moving faster than walking speed, he always reminds me just a bit of a rag doll -- a Raggedy Andy, if you will. The girl in the second picture is named Sue, owner of my favourite student nickname ever: "Soodlee-Doo!" I used to say it out loud to her, but then other students called her Soodlee-Doo so much she told us to stop calling her that, so now I call her over, and whisper it in her ear, and she twinkles with glee every time.

Anyway, lunch looked unappetizing, so I walked (in a fantastic cold that was so sharp I opened my jacket just to have myself a good shiver: sometimes a good shiver's as invigorating as twenty push-ups) to the sandwich shop near the school, where they know exactly what I want as soon as I walk in, because I always order the same thing. "Kuh-lop senduhweechee, cheejeuh bae-go, ahmaeleekah-no shirop manhee" means "club sandwich no cheese, cafe americano, lots of sugar" the lady smiled: she's seen me coming in there ordering over-sweet americanos since my first year in Korea, 2003, when they first opened, and her husband didn't know how to count out correct change yet -- if the sandwich and coffee was 4900 won, and you gave him 10000 won, he'd give you 6100 won back, or 3100, or 4900. He's much better now.

After the sandwich and coffee (takeout), back to school. More teaching, other stuff, then, after I left school, I popped by my house, picked something up, and headed out to Lotte Mart. You see, I like to hold a keyboard in my lap, but having an entire laptop in my lap is cumbersome and worrisome: what if I spell my coffee, or a sparrow flies into the apartment window and startles me, and I dump the computer on the floor? Yesterday, I bought a keyboard, plugged it in, only to discover that the J key was garbage: it didn't register when struck, unless you really cracked it, and it had a weird feel, different than the other keys. Unbearable, when you're trying to type fast -- like jogging with a stone in your shoe. By phone text message, I asked one of my Korean friends how to say "This keyboard had a broken key when I bought it. Please replace it." She sent the reply, and then I brought the keyboard away.

On the way to Lotte Mart, the taxi driver tried to rip me off, but I caught him before he could go past my destination. This made me feel half-annoyed that this kind of thing still happens, that the driver still sees white skin and thinks I'm some chump tourist whom he can filch by playing dumb, and half-pleased that I'm savvy enough to catch him heading the wrong way and ask him, in Korean, "why aren't you turning right?"

Then, I exchanged the keyboard easily, by showing the text message, the receipt, and the wonky "J" key to the fellow, but was stopped on my way to the escalator by another store clerk who didn't speak English, and didn't understand that I'd already exchanged the keyboard: they thought I still wanted to change the new one, and laughed at my broken Korean and body language. Finally, by going to the clerk who'd already made the exchange (who resolved the issue in three words), they got it, and let me go. I walked out of the store, noticed halfway home that they hadn't taken off the unit's anti-theft security tag, but also noticed that no alarms had gone off on my way home, anyway.

This is my life in Korea. The rule of twos still applies from time to time (in my first year I formulated the principle that every new thing you attempt here takes two tries to get it right, and any task you might want to do takes twice as long as it would in a country where everybody speaks English). Sometimes it's maddening, sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes it's just brilliant. In the end, it's not that much different, I suppose, than life just about anywhere.

Amy teases me about telling pointless stories, stories that don't go anywhere. But I don't think they are pointless. When she worked at the bakery, Mom used to come home every day, and tell some story or another about a grumpy, or a funny customer, or an order she nearly got wrong, but then luckily she re-counted the hot cross buns just before she put them in the box, or other such minute details.

The point of Mom's stories was not so much to teach me something new, or even (usually) to make me laugh. The point of them, I think, was more cumulative than specific -- it wasn't so much any one story she told me, as the fact she told stories about those little things. That said to me that the little things, the pointless uninteresting things, are worth noticing. They are the texture and rhythm of our daily lives, and they keep each day different from the next. If we notice them, suddenly our lives aren't a metronome-dull repetition of wake up, eat, work, eat, work, go home, free time, bed time -- our lives can instead be all cluttered with sounds and smells and personalities we never noticed before. In his book, Letters To A Young Poet, my favourite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote, "If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it, blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place." So maybe that's why I tell stories like these: not so much because I think you'll find them riveting; more because I want to be the kind of human being who notices them. In Seymour: An Introduction, J.D. Salinger (another of my favourite writers) says, "Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next. Is he never wrong?" So forgive my rambling if it bores you. I'm just looking for those patches of holy ground.


1 comment:

Heather Loewen said...

Rob, I like your little stories about everything that happens to you. I think it's interesting (although admittedly a bit of a long read). Still, I think it's worth taking the time. Thanks for sharing.