3.4 Winter 2021-2022

December 28, Awkward

Helen told me that she made some new friends at the gym.

“There is another woman, she’s much younger than me, who comes in at the same time. She came up to me this week to chat! We exchanged numbers and we’re going to get coffee this week! Another woman also struck up a conversation by the elliptical. I must be popular.” She concluded, unironically.

So who’s going to tell her?

But she didn’t end the conversation with her unintended dating life. She then turned to me and said suddenly, “Why don’t you invite me anywhere? I’m always inviting you.”

I was stunned. I decided to keep my reaction as neutral as possible because perhaps something was lost in translation and she didn’t mean to sound so… middle school.

“We haven’t gone out that many times,” I responded weakly.

“Yes, we have! Here and there and that other place…”

“Okay. I didn’t know you felt that way. I’m sorry.” I responded carefully.

“Yeah so if you have time during the break, text me! We can go somewhere.” She said, packing her bags to leave early for her five week vacation while I prepped for a camp that would later be canceled.

“Oh and can you do me a favor? I ordered a USB but it won’t arrive until 1:30 after which I’ll be gone. Then can you bring it to me when we meet for the fishing trip?” She asked.

I thought about saying, well maybe if you stayed an extra thirty minutes into your vacation you could just get it yourself but I refrained. One of us has to be the adult.

The whole conversation soured the budding relationship I had with her a little.

Helen knows that nearly every weekend for the last two months I’ve had to get a COVID test. Also, she’s the native and I’m the foreigner. I don’t invite my Korean coworkers out because first, I don’t even know where to go and second, they’re usually too busy with their families or lives. Yana and I still haven’t even had dinner together and I’ve spent arguably more time talking to her in the last year than Helen.

Helen is also ten years my senior. I have never in all my years had a Korean coworker antagonize me for not extending invitations. They usually are apologizing to me for not having the time. But life is full of surprises.

This is not the only odd coworker experience I’ve had this week. Yesterday at travel school, in an ill-planned visit, the local health authorities came to vaporize the school. I didn’t know until I went into the hallway and saw a man in hazmat gear spraying the hall.

I don’t think anyone really knew because the principal rushed into my office (the science storage room) to tell me to go outside. The office staff and I then milled about in the cold for an hour waiting for the pungent alcohol smell to disperse. In a fit of curiosity, I asked one of the staff about a picture on the wall. She didn’t know where the picture was from and asked the science teacher who said, “Korea”. Wow, thank you.

The other woman said, “Yes, we know that but do you know where?” I also asked if it was in our city. The science teacher, the one who wrote the book on teaching, didn’t say much of anything.

I know, as Helen reminded me, that Koreans are terrified of speaking English and avoid foreigners. But that’s also the case for me and my kind at our own workplace. Where we were hired to teach English.

It can be very isolating. Moreso, I was speaking to him in Korean, and I speak to as many colleagues as possible in Korean, but the result is often the same. So can the “English phobia” excuse really be true…? Is it that there is always some foreign teacher at the school on rotation so there’s no use in attempting to be close? Do I always have to be the initiator? Ugh, I don’t wanna. But as you know, this is an old argument.

Maybe I can understand where Helen comes from.

A little.

However, the difference is that I think that Helen is used to being popular. She’s used to being asked. But now this dopey foreigner won’t even return the invitation. Don’t I know that she’s a hot commodity?

And then I concluded: it doesn’t matter. Everyone has weird quirks and pet peeves and I can choose to feel annoyed and hurt or choose to let go and accept them how they are. I will be grateful for those that are kind and reach out, and I will simply not dwell on those who don’t.

I haven’t reached the radical acceptance level of Xie Lan but I’m more zen than I was before.

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