3.3 Fall 2021

September 23, Uh hi?

After a strange day in which a disruptive sixth grader turned out to have secret English skills all along, I parked myself at the local cafe where I have a points card to prepare for my online Korean class.

The cafe has huge windows along the front wall that look out over the sidewalk and main street. Sometimes I see my students walk by. Other times I have fun people watching.

I need to get the secret to how these windows are cleaned.

I was working diligently in the corner and sipping my latte sans mask so all passerby were able to see my full foreignness in the window.

I looked up from my workbook to see a big kid and his parents. There was no cute little uniform that usually differentiates the elementary schoolers from the older kids, so I guessed he was a sixth grader, just not one of mine.

He looked at me. I looked at him. He kept staring so I tilted my head as if to say, may I help you?

Bringing our staring contest to an abrupt end, he waved energetically which shocked a laugh out of me and I waved back. His mom and dad, who had witnessed the entire brief exchange, bowed to me through the glass as if to say, “thanks for humoring him” and also “sorry about that”.

I sat in a glow for several moments more before a public bus full of high schoolers stopped at the light.

Would lightning strike twice?

Two boys stared at me through the bus windows. No tinting marred our view so I decided to wave. The boy closest to me with short hair and glasses (a description that fits half of all Korean boys) immediately waved back and I looked down at my book so they wouldn’t see me laughing.

I also caught a young male duo staring as they headed west, and I made uncomfortably long eye contact with a dad and toddler heading east.

I wiped my face frantically. Did I eat my cookie too ravenously and spread chocolate all around my mouth like a puppy that found the peanut butter jar? Or like that time my baby brother played bop it with an open tin of cocoa powder?

Y’all didn’t pay attention to me for eight months and now you stare? Something must be in the water. I can only hope this means we are finally re-calibrating and, for better or worse, I’ll once again be the unmistakable and unavoidable token foreigner. Well, once I fight the only other foreign woman I see on my walk to work for total dominance.

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