3.3 Fall 2021

October 22, Community

The recent and drastic change of weather from summer that overstayed its welcome to winter that showed up much too early to the party has zapped the health of teachers right and left: Ten from our school alone left early this week, myself and Jack included, suffering from colds and fatigue. I had to even uncharacteristically take a nap at my desk on Tuesday afternoon.

MJ, my office mate the floating teacher, greeted me in our early morning liminal time before Jack and Helen usually arrive with a Lotte Mart gift bag and hot cup of tea, like I was Lotte VIP.

I peered inside as she explained in Korean.“There’s tea concentrate, tangerines, and burnt rice. That’s a special type of snack that you can eat dry or rehydrate.” I’ve seen many dramas where the village clown munches in burnt rice in times of stress and was curious to finally try.

“I know it must be hard to be sick when you live overseas.” She said, projecting a warm aura that moms of teenagers specially possess.

I clutched the bag to my chest and thanked her. How touching to be taken care of.

The week featured a surprise cast of return characters that jolted me into realizing I do have my own little community. And at the same time, the cool hand of fall made me desperate for one to hold.

Autumn casts its own spell, doesn’t it?

At travel school I chatted with Anthony and some other teachers and corralled them into helping me schedule a mechanic appointment. Anthony revealed himself to be two years my junior.

“Should I call you noona?” He joked.

“I mean…” I replied, not completely turned off by the idea.

The whole school was too caught up on work to have a match but Yana managed to spare thirty minutes for us to sneak into the gym and practice volleyball serves.

Volleyball is painful! How does anyone manage to play without turning their bones to mush?

We called it quits after my cardio averse body began to break down and headed back to the office, still donned in workout gear.

Anthony stopped in his tracks at the sight of us, nearly upending his tray of tea cups presumably for a meeting with the principal.

“You played??” He asked us in surprise, with perhaps a tinge of jealousy.

Instead of replying, I pretended to uppercut the tray of China because I upsettingly share the same sense of humor as my mother, as well as that of a 13 year-old boy according to an Internet quiz.

Many teachers this week have asked me when I’m returning to America, as if it’s a given that I’ll jet back the day this contract finishes. For most foreign teachers, this is true. But it always shakes me to realize people think I’m the same. As if I haven’t been working hard to build a life here.

In the eyes of my coworkers, I’m another foreigner who will come and go. And to be fair, is one year different than five or ten if the conclusion is my departure?

I have to prove that I’m worth getting to know, even if I’m not a certainty. It feels unfair sometimes. Even Korean teachers rotate schools every one to five years, but it’s the contact workers who seem temporary.

(This is also so why dating can be hard. To someone looking for marriage, dating me is a delay for their real wife.)

I let myself be pulled into the local market, figuring that old women yelling at me about pumpkin sales would shake off any lingering feelings of foreignness from the day.

I went up and then down the sprawling mountain street, dodging shouted fish prices and melon deals. The orange glow from the sunset bathed the market in a nostalgic fillm light and I thought, how nice this would be to browse with a local friend. To link arms and skip through clouds of fried chicken aroma. To visit this particular eggplant vendor because he’s got the best deal, or that particular steamed corn seller because she is a friend of a friend.

It’s hard to prove to others that I’m not just a rolling stone, that I’m worth knowing. But then, can I blame them? I myself an untethered to any particular future.

It doesn’t stop me from digging my heels in further. Koreans don’t often have to say goodbye to new friends, but I’ve been breaking my heart doing so since the tender age of 12. You will like me, and, as is life, you will miss me. Don’t give up before we’ve even gotten started.

Nevertheless, I’ll make this community accept me just like I’ve made a small army of introverted friends:

By wearing them down until it’s too late to get rid of me.

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