our secret


As I was leaving for Seoul, to run the volunteer meeting for TRACK, the principal of the school stopped me because my backpack was hanging open.  Oops!  my cigarettes were hanging out in plain sight.  “Cigar?” he asked.  I turned around and put my finger to my lip and made the shhh sound.  “Our secret!”  >wink<   and then rushed off.

Now, I wonder if I’m on his fantasy girl list or his bad teacher list…I think I’m on his bad girl fantasy list.  And there it shall stay!

Last place, I went up on the roof with the men and smoked.  It made them uncomfortable, not because I was only one of two females who smoked outside of a bar, but because they felt obligated to speak English to me.  Usually it was just the typical “hello, how are you?” and then they’d either talk with another Korean or smoke as fast as they could and beat a hasty retreat.

Here in Cheong Pyeong, I’ve never been to the roof, and I don’t believe any of the teachers smoke.  Some of the building staff, do, and their room reeks of stale smoke smell.

I had the privilege of going there once before the school year began:  Kim YuNa was performing her long program at the Olympics, and our teacher orientation was put on hold as we all crowded into the room (a traditional-looking room hidden in amongst the more western building, with raised floor heating with a bathroom off to the side) to watch on his t.v.

The write-ups I’d read about the incredible pressure she was under, carrying the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on her back, were no over-estimation.  The day before, her short program was playing everywhere, and the entire country was practically at a stand-still.  I watched it from a sidewalk outside a GS-25, with a crowd of about 50 others.

So we all sat on the heated floor, watching her perform, and damn if I didn’t have tears in my eyes as she executed her routine to perfection.  The entire room was misty-eyed.  Everyone was so proud.  South Koreans know they don’t really exist on the world stage, and to be represented so well…It made me feel proud too, for them / with them.

So now I’m down to less than a pack a week.  I only smoke on the veranda, and so the apartment stays smoke-free.  Even there, I am on the look-out, as many of my students live near-by, and I can’t walk anywhere withoutu running into half a  dozen of them.

Last weekend I went and met Jong-Ae, the puppet lady in ChunCheon.  We had a lovely time, us two single ladies.  We went out to dinner and had a soup of fish and spinach.  She told me it was virility soup and that (ha ha) probably it wasn’t a good idea for single women to be drinking it if they were going home alone!  (ain’t that the truth)  After, we went and had a smoke in her car, because she is very conscientious about being seen smoking) and she told me how back in history, the king had many women.  He had a different woman each night, and how all these women had nothing to do but wait for their turn to be called to duty.  And so they smoked to fill the time.  So there is a name for women smoking, which of course I can’t remember…shim shim something…which has connotations of being a mistress attached to it.  I asked her if the women were gisaeng (Korean geisha girls) and she said no, that is a special job, not gisaeng.  Just women who were kept to service the king.

You see halmoni’s smoking a lot, and freely, in public.  But they are so old and haggard they don’t care what people think about them.

I went to the GS25 for a bowl of ramen noodles.  I am so exhausted lately, due to research for lessons and some track work, that I had slept through dinner and no restaurants were open after I woke up.  The convenience store worker struck up a conversation with me in English!  He’d been to my school and then gone to the Philippines to study English.  (kind of sad, because convenience store workers make less than $3 an hour) So we talked about the high school, and about America, and being adopted, etc.  Then I asked for some cigarettes, and he said, “but you’re a teacher!”  To which I replied, “shhh!  that’s our little secret!”  He laughed and told me he would tell all his friends.

So my cover is blown, and the principal and the convenience worker both know I’m a naughty girl.

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3 thoughts on “our secret

  1. It’s so nice to read your blog again after your moving-absence. I’ve been missing you ALOT lately so it’s really nice to read your words and get an update about what you’re doing!!!

  2. I stumbled onto your site looking for some background on basic korean words (just to know for some people here). Your insights into Korean culture, coming as you do from your life in the U.S., are very informative. Thanx for this very much. It’s nice that you have decided to share your evolving personal situation there with the World — and a damned shame it’s so hard for you, as essentially a foreigner, to fit into such a traditional culture, especially considering your own history. I hope you find the love you deserve. And I guess I will be checking in periodically to find out!

  3. Sara:

    Hi! Good to be back! The first post after almost a month away was hard to do, but it’s getting easier now. Still a billion little thoughts I don’t know how to write about or address. I’m hoping I can save more money here and bring you guys over a.s.a.p.!

    Jim:

    It’s my pleasure to share my pain with everyone: hopefully it will make life easier for those that follow. I really loved what you said, “I hope you find the love you deserve.” People in the past have said, “I hope you find peace.” or “I hope you find healing.” (both of which condescendingly make me feel like crap) But, hoping I find love is so nice to hear, and that you think I deserve it is nice to hear as well.

    Thank you!

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