Wednesday, June 13, 2007

summertime and the living's easy

Summer is in full swing in Gongju. The cherry blossoms and rhododendrons that used to cover the city have given way to dark pink roses and big, yellow-faced flowers. The rice fields are once again a patchwork of fresh green plants and mirror-flat water--beautiful but chock full of baby mosquitoes. Most of all it's unbelievably, wickedly hot and humid. Breathing is enough to make me break a sweat, so arduous tasks like walking to school, teaching class, or climbing a set of stairs all leave me red-faced and drenched. It's extremely embarrassing, since Koreans (or at least the ones in Gongju) don't seem to get sweaty without really serious physical exertion, whatever the disgustingness is quite the spectacle. The worst part, though, is at night. Our apartment doesn't have air conditioning (I suppose it would be a little weird to have a/c but not heat in the winter), and my host family doesn't let me go to sleep with the window open or my fan on. This is not a passive aggressive way of telling me to hurry up and return to America, but rather out of concern for my wellbeing. Most Koreans believe that sleeping with a window open is asking to get sick, even on the hottest summer nights. Sleeping with a fan is even more dangerous, as it can result in the dreaded fan death. This means that every night, I go to bed with my fan on and window open and wake up several hours later, sweaty, to find them off and closed. In the morning, I often get a lecture about how the fan can kill me. I think my host family believes in the vortex theory described in the article, because the lecture is often accompanied by graphic charades of a vacuum sucking air away from my face.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I didn't have any afternoon classes and left school early (I usually stay and lesson plan/prepare stuff for classes). This meant leaving at the same time as the kindergarteners...students I don't get to teach and to whom I'm still completely alien (Kindergarten has it's own wing of the school, so I almost never even glimpse them). The first little boy to see me gave a full bow (most students just wave...they think it's exciting I don't expect them to bow) and insa-ed in Korean. When I answered with, "hi," he ran flying from the shoe area, shouting the Korean equivalent of, "Oh my God you guys! The English teacher just said hi to me, in English!" Immediately I was surrounded by an army of tiny Koreans, each demanding their own hi. When I finally started walking off school grounds, one of the little girls trotted after me. "English teacher, are Japanese people bad or not bad?" she asked me, very seriously (in Korean). I was caught a bit off guard by the total randomness, but answered, "not bad." "Oh...well I'm Korean," she answered with a frown. "That's okay," I said, awkward because my Korean-to-person-of-lower-status is always really awkward. "Korean's aren't bad either." Fortunately this satisfied her and she took hold of my hand until we had to part ways.

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