“You Don’t Have a Toothbrush.”

“Mom,” Good Man said on the phone, “I’m going to sleep at Jennifer’s tonight so Amanda and I can repack her stuff in the vacuum bags early tomorrow.”

“But—you don’t have a toothbrush!”

“Mom! It’s OK!”

He didn’t tell her that in fact he does have a toothbrush. It’s the one he kept at my house.

Slow Down, Mother.

Since I no longer have an apartment, I am staying at Jennifer’s place. Good Man accidentally left his handphone here. It rung once and I looked at the history and determined it was his mother. When she rang a second time I answered.

Me: 여보세요? Hello?
Mother: 여보세요? Hello?
Me: 네. 음… Yes, um…
Mother: 아만다? Amanda?
Me: 네! 안녕하세요? Yes! How are you?
Mother: [굳맨] 어디에요? Is [Good Man] there?
Me: 아니요. 한드폰 잊어버렸어요. No, he forgot his handphone.
Mother: 잊어버렸지요? 왜요? He forgot his handphone? Why?
Me: 왜나하면 때때로 바보예요. Because sometimes he’s an idiot.
Mother, laughing heartily.
Me: 때때로, 때때로. Sometimes, sometimes.
Mother: 아이구… Oh goodness…
Me: 텍시 타요. He’s in a taxi.
Mother: 어디에요? 택시 탄거에요? Where is he? A taxi?
Me: 네. Yes.
Mother: 탙탙탙탙탙탙탙탙탙탙탙. Tat tat tat tat…
Me, really confused by the sudden rapid-fire Korean: 음…. Um…
Mother: 탙탙탙 가방 탙탙탙탙탙탙탙탙. Tat tat tat tat bag tat tat tat tat.
Me, completely guessing about how to respond: 음…제 가방 제 친구 집에 있어요. Um, my bags are at my friend’s house.
Mother: 그래요? 그럼, 내일! 우리 집에 3시예요! Really? Well, tomorrow! At our house, at three.
Me: 네, 기뻐요! 내일 봐요! Yes, I’m happy about it. See you tomorrow!
Mother: 봐요. Bye bye~! See you. Bye bye!
Me, surprised: Bye bye!

Holy kimchi am I glad I started learning Korean long before I met Good Man.

Telephone conversations are still really difficult, though.

Good Man told me his mother thought it was cute that I answered the phone. And she wants me to stay with them and sleep in Sister’s room.

How much things can change in ten months. Nay, in six. And I doubt things would be going so well if I didn’t speak any Korean.

Cackling Ajummas and Looking for Sex in Korea

Good Man and I are in Jejudo, the Korean Hawaii. (So they say. It’s beautiful, but it’s not Hawaii.) Good Man’s Mother thinks he’s at some computer conference.

Last night at the airport I saw something I hope to never see again.

Ajummas, technically, are middle aged women. Ajummas as most people use the term are loud, square-shaped women with the same ajumma perm, ajumma visors, ajumma sun masks that make them look like birds, and ajumma clothes. (Patterned cotton/poly pants and shirts, patterns not matching.) They’ll hit you with their umbrellas, push you to get on the subway first (even when their are tons of open seats), and yell at you if you’re doing something they think is wrong.

(Side note on the last point: In my apartment complex we can only bring paper recycling out on the 9th, 19th, 29th of the month. We came to Jejudo yesterday, and we get back the 31st, which is the same day I need to have everything out of my apartment. So I brought out the paper recycling yesterday. On my way to the recycling area, so ajumma started screaming at me.

I just stopped, waited until she was done. She shook her head and starting complaining about how foreigners don’t learn Korean. I said, in Korean* “Yes, I understand. But Saturday I’m moving. And today until Saturday I’m going to Jejudo. So I’m doing it today!”

Well, that shut her up.)

So last night at the airport, I went into the restroom to find 6 stalls and about 25 ajummas. Were the ajummas in line? Nooooo, this is Korea, and a single line in a room full of ajummas would make too much sense!

Instead, there were ajummas in front of each stall. So we basically had 6 ajumma lines. I stood behind all of them, trying to be the start of one normal non-ajumma line.

The ajummas would exit the stalls, pants still down around their knees, all cackling and talking to each other. If you’ve never heard an ajumma cackle, consider yourself lucky. An ajumma cackle is grown-up agasshi wining combined with a chicken clucking with a hint of witch in it.

They’d start tucking themselves into their pants (yes, themselves, no, not their clothes, themselves), but none of them would actually move out of the doorway so that their ajumma friends could use the toilet. No, they were just showing off their ajumma underwear to their ajumma friends in their ajumma visors with their ajumma perms in what had clearly become the ajumma bathroom.

Finally, a stall opened up. The first stall. The one closest to me. There were no ajummas in front of this door, so I looked at the next one, expecting her to change lines. She didn’t move, so I started to walk toward the stall only—

To be rammed in the shoulder by the ajumma standing behind me in line.

I left the bathroom and found Good Man.

“I need to find another bathroom because I am not an ajumma. And luckily, I am not Korean, so I will never become an ajumma. I think this is why you love me.”

He nodded very seriously.

***
*Usually when I say something in Korean, I write it in Korean. But I’m at a PC bang using IE 6 and for some reason IE doesn’t work well with my blogging platform. Of course it shouldn’t, IE is crap and Firefox rocks. Korea has not yet caught on to Firefox. Korean government websites often only work with IE and a ton of ActiveX plugins. Korea, in spite of being so well wired and connected, is pretty clueless when it comes to options other than Microsoft.

Now, speaking of clueless, I was looking for information about the Jejudo Sex Museum and Yahoo is now automatically opening up Korea Yahoo. So I typed in “Jejudo Sex Museum” and a screen popped up telling me I had to enter my Korean ID number to prove I was over 19. I suppose this is a way to prevent youngsters from looking at things they shouldn’t be looking at. I went to the US Yahoo site, typed in the exact same thing, and got what I wanted. Try again, Korea…

I Could’ve Done Better

So yesterday was my last day at work. I see my third and fourth graders once a week, fifth and sixth graders twice a week. So since last week, we’ve been giving them time at the end of class to write good bye notes to me.

Some of them are really funny, some are really touching.

And then yesterday, a fifth grader who rarely talks, who almost never has his book or a pencil, wrote me this card. Everyone else used markers and crayons, he used only his pencil.

happy Korea
happy Canada
goodbye

I am not from Canada. This shows you how much he pays attention. In fact, when I got it, I teased him about it. “Canada? Me?” He blushed and I gave him a half-shoulder hug. I only read the inside of the card after he left.

Hellow Amanda
I’m chan hee
after before very nut like
English
after very like English
because you teach very
well
I love you
Tank you
goodbye

before teacher is
not very teach very
much
but you is very very
great
English time very
happy und very great
good bye Amanda
good bye

Chan hee

When I read it after class, I was able to hold back the tears. When I got home and showed Good Man, I couldn’t stop crying.

He wrote that without any help. One of my many no-book, no-pencil, no-talking students wrote that. We told them they could write in Korean, and yet he wrote that. All of that.

Why didn’t I know he could do that? Why didn’t I see it?

I was bawling, “[Good Man], I could’ve done more! I could’ve done better! I could’ve taught more!”

“You’re a great teacher, Amanda, they like you. In elementary school, English is not tested, it’s to introduce them to foreigners and English and to have fun, he remembers you,” Good Man said. “You did a great job. You don’t need to cry. He will have good memories of English and foreigners because of you.”

My first year as a teacher, I had a student give me a handmade bracelet. It was your typical fifth grade girl craft bracelet. Sort of like the pasta necklace I gave my grandma for her 50th birthday (which, 10 years later, she still had in her fine jewelry box).

“Here, Ms.,” she said. “I want to give this to you. I gave it to my mom.”

“Oh, then, hon, you should—”

“But she said she would never wear it and gave it back to me.”

I tried to hide my shock and slipped it on my wrist, “Well I will wear it.”

She touched my heart and broke it in the same moment.

This card did the same, because I want to shout “MY GOD, WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? YOU’RE AWESOME!” from the school courtyard, and yet I ask myself, “Why didn’t I know he could do that? What if I’d known? What could we have done then?”

Did I do enough for these kids? All… 700+? Did I teach them any English? Did I make them less afraid of foreigners? Did I make them think, just a little?

Did they learn half as much from me as I learned from them?

No, Good Man, No! Chopsticks. Money Matters.

Good Man’s mother offered to buy us a car.

Good Man said no.

No, Good Man, no!

***

It occurred to me today that at Good Man’s house Saturday, I was given a fork. A fork and no chopsticks.

I’d asked for chopsticks, thinking maybe she wanted me to use the fork for the salad. I got chopsticks, looked around, saw Father and Sister eating their salad with chopsticks and dove right in. I didn’t think anything of it.

It wasn’t until today that I realized that I was the only person with a fork and without chopsticks.

I know she was trying to be kind, but why do Koreans think chopsticks are so hard for foreigners to use? Especially when said foreigner has lived here for 691 days? It’s tiresome.

***

A few weeks ago, Good Man and I went to a coworker’s wedding. On the cash envelope I wrote (in Korean) “Amanda English Teacher, [Good Man].” She knew he was coming, so I figured she’d realize who he was. We both signed the guest book.

When my coworker got back from the honeymoon, she and her husband were looking through the money list. They had no idea who Good Man was, so they had to go through the guest book. They found his name next to mine and figured out it was me.

I was the only who stood in front of the money collectors, writing on the envelope. I was the one who took the cash from my wallet. The bride is a teacher, the groom is not, and I wrote “English Teacher” on the envelope. I handed them the cash.

How stupid do you have to be to write down the secondary name on the envelope as the primary gift giver and not even write down the first name on the envelope at all?

I was ticked, and Good Man said, “It’s Korean Confucianism. It’s sexist and racist all at the same time. It’s messed up.”

Indeed.

No, Mother, No

Good Man’s mother wants to buy me a hanbok.

“No, Mother,” said Good Man.

Good Man’s mother wants to buy us couple rings.

Oh good God, please, not couple rings. “No, Mother,” said Good Man.

He told me this later. I thought for a moment. “Hey, I have a LensBaby on my list. She can buy me that.”

Even Though I Need Braces, I Got 50 Points

Yesterday I met Good Man’s family again, for dinner at their house. It was supposed to be lunch, apparently, but Friday was Good Man’s last night at work, so he had a very late waysik and, well, it ended up being an early dinner.

선물

When we got to Good Man’s house, I gave his parents a box of orange juice and thanked them for the invitation. “초대해 주셔어서 감사합니다!” Good Man went to his room to change. His dad was watching basketball on TV and his mom and I sat on the couch momentarily until she invited me to the kitchen for some water. We sat down, and Good Man joined up.

He asked where Sister was and Mother said in Korean, “She’s at Technomart, buying a gift for Amanda. But don’t tell her.”

I was pretending that I wasn’t listening, trying not to laugh. Good Man just looked exasperated. “Mom! She knows the word 선물!”

His mother looked so surprised. She turned to me, touched my arm and said, “Don’t tell her you know.”

Good Man

교정기

A few minutes later, working on grape juice rather than water now, Mother started talking about my teeth. This was my fault as I mentioned my mouth hurting a bit from a cleaning I’d gotten done Friday. (Koreans love to draw blood at teeth cleanings, apparently.)

I should not have mentioned my mouth.

Mother said, “교정기 있으면 더 이뻐요.”

I was pretty sure I understood what she said, but I asked Good Man for a translation. He shook his head, “I don’t want to translate it.”

“Tell me,” I said.

“‘If you had braces, you would be more beautiful.'”

I thought about a grammar form I recently learned and said, “이미 이쁜 편이에요.”

Mother burst out laughing, grabbed my hands, nodded, exclaiming, “Beautiful, beautiful!” while Good Man scolded her for being so rude.

I’m already rather beautiful.

(Four side notes. First, I wish I hadn’t had to think before making my comment, but I think the looking into the sky, thinking about it aspect may have made it cute to her. Second, Korean mothers are a whole ‘nother breed. Third, there’s some old saying in Korean about a gap in your front teeth meaning that your luck will run out. Fourth, Good Man blames her behavior on the fact that she’s part of the “medical check generation.”)

Beautiful, I Tell You!

Sister Being Silly

미래

Dinner was really good. Mother made a salad, bean paste soup, 잡채, and kimchi. She pointed to the kimchi and said, “Kimchi” in that tone of voice Koreans use with foreigners, as if we’re three year olds. I laughed and said, “I know kimchi,” while Good Man said, “Mom! She’s lived here two years, she knows kimchi!”

Good Man had told Mother that I don’t eat beef or seafood and I suspect he told her I like really old kimchi, because the chapjae was meatless and the kimchi was old and really good. She kept my rice bowl full, which was making me a bit nervous as I was getting full and it’s rather rude not to finish rice.

We had some wine at the end of dinner and though we were all food, his mother put the remaining food on our plates, claiming it was anju.

At one point during dinner, Mother fretted that Good Man would miss kimchi. Now, Good Man is a fairly open-minded Korean in that he eats a heck of a lot more than Korean food. Koreans often travel abroad and then only eat Korean food (and you thought Americans were bad…) But of course he will miss Korean food.

He told his mother that he’d be living in an area with other Koreans and could eat kimchi.

I nodded and said, “하지만 달라요. 어머니 김치, 식당 김치, 달라요.” Mom kimchi, restaurant kimchi, they’re different.

His mother nodded and his father suddenly asked what our intentions were.

Before I could even answer, Good Man launched into what can only be described as a lecture. For a good ten minutes he went on about how he wants to live in many different countries, Eastern Europe, America, central America… He even said something to his father along the lines of, “You two don’t live in Jinju or Busan anymore!”

I understood a good 50% of what he was saying and the rest by context, which is quite good considering how quickly he was speaking, how much he was mumbling, and that he was speaking banmal. Meanwhile, Sister and I just kept shooting glances at each other across the table.

Good Man is a stubborn, independent eldest son. Such a bad eldest son, indeed.

고추

After dinner, Good Man’s mother showed me baby pictures. 아싸! I so wanted to see baby pictures! Sister, Mother and I sat on the couch, looking at photos.

One of the photos, he couldn’t’ve been more than a year old. And the way he was sleeping made me do a double take. Half on his stomach and half on his side, back slightly arched, head thrown back, mouth a bit open.

I have seen him sleep just like that.

I wanted to steal that photo.

Good Man, Exhausted

Also, sometimes Good Man gives me a look. Now I know where he honed that look. He honed that look, every year, on his birthday. There was not one single photo of him looking at the camera, only photos of him looking at the cake, obviously thinking, “Put that camera away so I can eat this cake! Now!”

Finally, near the end of the book, there was a series of naked photos. In Korea, it’s traditional to take a photo of the son naked and display it at his first birthday party, showing off his 고추, red pepper. His mother and sister kept pointing to the photos. He came in the room a few minutes later and I giggled.

“고추를 봤어!” I saw your gochu!

Good Man looked at us and shook his head. “I am waiting to see your baby photos. Tell your mother.”

“Not gochu photos…”

아이스 크림

After dinner, we were going to go for a drive, but Good Man’s 이모 (maternal grandmother aunt) came over with her daughter. I met her and I don’t know if she didn’t expect a foreigner or if she expected me to be bigger or smaller or have more heads or what, but the look on her face was…well, indescribable. Also, she kept grabbing my arms and elbows in a rather confusing manner. I couldn’t tell if she wanted to hug me or what.

Sister, Good Man and I decided to go for a walk. I asked Sister is she has a boyfriend (she doesn’t) and then asked if Good Man’s lecture at dinner was unusual. “No,” she said, “he’s always like that.”

We walked, talked a bit, decided to get some ice cream. We didn’t even talk about anything important, but I really like his sister. I liked her from the moment I met her. And she likes me, too. It’s nice to instantly get along with someone.

Sister Laughing
Sister had braces.

빈손

Before coming over, Good Man and I had stopped off at a market to get a box of juice. It’s very, very rude to come to someone’s house with 빈손, an empty hand. The market had some sort of sticker point system and we got two stickers. I asked Good Man if his mother had a card and he said no.

During dinner, I spotted the sticker tree on her fridge, so after dinner I fished the stickers out of Good Man’s wallet and put them on the tree. His sister saw me and mentioned it to Mother, who had her back turned. They laughed but I thought nothing of it.

Sister
Even though this photo is out of focus, I like it.

This morning Good Man and I were chatting online. He said, “My mother likes the fact you saw the coupon tree on the fridge…and gave you 50 bonus points to her satisfaction.”

I may need braces, but I got 50 bonus points!

다음 주

Good Man’s father left this morning (he works abroad) but next week Mother, Sister, Good Man and I are meeting Sunday for a drive in the country.

슬라이드 필름

Me

Sister

Sister and Me

Good Man and Sister


Crying, Packing, Texts

Crying

Wednesday night in taekwondo class I did finally cry. “가고 싶어요. 가고 싶지 읺아요. 반반씩.” I want to go. I won’t want to go. Half and half. I said, “In Korea, I’ve had three jobs, one taekwondo studio, one taekwondo family. And one boyfriend. But boyfriend is going with.”

Master nodded, understandingly, and said we had email and Cyworld.

“I know,” I said, “But it’s not the same.”

Meanwhile, Master’s Son was digging around in my pockets for lip gloss and Master’s Daughter was feeding me cream buns and asking why I was sad.

I ended up doing 1,750 turns of the jump rope in class. Sabumnim the Man came over to see how I was doing. “It’s hard?”

I knew he wasn’t talking about the jumping rope. I nodded.

Packing

Tonight Jennifer came over and helped me pack. By “help” I mean that she sat on the couch and surfed and we chatted while I packed. I needed someone there to help keep me on track (as evident by the fact that I’m writing instead of packing now).

She ended up taking away some hangers, a few photos, some collapsible fabric boxes, a shirt, my cork board, a standing lamp, some books, and my bookshelf.

I’ve taken down my lantern from last year’s Lantern parade. My belts are packed up. Soon, I’ll tear down the photos and clean out my medicine cabinet.

I’m actually going home.

Without a job, without an apartment.

Recent Text Messages That Have Made Me Laugh Out Loud

drinlu?

oh good but still smack her ass

Michael White’s Death, Funding, Podcast

OK, I’m late to the Korean news party…like I said on the podcast I did with ZenKimchi and Jen, other people do news much better than I do.

Please help Michael White’s mother get his remains home. You can send funds to the following bank account.

S.Micheal White Fund

Daegu Bank
080-10-004509

I get a lot of email from people thinking of coming to Korea to teach. Please listen to this podcast. This is an extreme case of police incompetence and difficulties in Korea, but I really believe that this podcast, this whole incident, points to a number of problems with Korean society and being a foreigner in Korea.

Edited to add: Transcripts are available in English and Korean.

His Fault

Considering how I break down into tears just thinking of saying goodbye to Master, I’m not sure how I’ll really be able to do it in two weeks.

Tonight Good Man was hugging me while I was crying. “It’ll be OK.”

“I know,” I said. “You know I want to go with you, right?”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” I wailed. A few seconds later, “Wait. It is, actually.”