when bad days go good


Today I really like Korean people.

Gepik (my school district – the province surrounding Seoul) had their orientation for secondary school teachers who are not first time teachers the past two days. 

Gyeonggi-do, by the way, is often referrred to as the egg white and Seoul the yolk.  Seoul is its own special province, similar to the District of Columbia.  This is why it can take four hours to get from one end of Gyeonggi province to another…

I asked my co-teacher how to get to our meeting point in Guri, and she told me what bus to get on.  I second-guessed to myself why she told me to get on a red bus, which is the between city buses which make a lot of stops, and not take an express bus, but I kept it to myself.  Maybe, I thought, maybe there just isn’t an express bus to Guri.  Later, I thought maybe she told me that because those are the buses most of the Koreans prefer to take, because they are less than 2 bucks. 

Well, I should have listened to myself and inquired about express busses at the ticket booth, because the bus that usually takes 1 hour to get to Guri that day took almost 2 hours.  Maybe it was the light snow which caused traffic to back up or maybe there was some other reason, but despite leaving a half hour early, I STILL managed to miss the coach hired to take us to the conference center in Yongin.  I called the tourist information line that gives travel advice in English, and they gave me some really confusing directions to get to Yongin from Guri.  So I asked them to give me directions from the bus’ final destination to Yongin, and that required several transfers on several different colored buses.  (color indicating inter-city, intra-city, and neighborhood buses)  Which is often a disaster for us foreigners.  So I opted to take the subways instead. 

The last half hour of the bus trip took about 45 minutes, and then it took two hours to get to the last stop on the subway, where I had to hire a taxi to drive another half hour or more to the conference center.  2.5 hours of getting irritated at this girl who kept occupying a seat with her small suitcase while people were standing.  I got so mad at her, I rapped on the suitcase and made her make room for an old man.  And this was no kid – a woman almost my age – And 2.5 hours with a bus driver who always forgot to turn off his turn signal…grrr…Altogether?  5.5 hours! And a 40 dollar taxi fare!  Ouch!  But I’m sure I’m probably better off missing the introductions and contract discussions in the morning…

And besides, I had a nice time on the subway.  No, not just a nice time, one of those scenes from a movie.  One impeccably dressed Korean man about forty insisted I take an emptying seat.  And then when another seat emptied behind his back, I let him know it was available.  We both got off to transfer at the same station, and as I got on the next train, he stopped and helped an older couple find their destination on the subway map.  The train was full and steamy like a sauna, and he kept wanting to put my backpack in the overhead for me, but I declined and it was awkward.  Actually, every interaction was sweetly awkward.  The second a seat opened up, he motioned for me to  sit down.  And then he got a seat a few people away and sat down.  And slowly the train emptied out and it was just us on the bench, strangers who had travelled together for over an hour, dancing politely.  And he started coughing and I fished through my backpack and reached across the three person space between us and gave him a cough drop, which he put in his mouth.  And he asked me what country I was from and when he tilted his head in momentary confusion, I told him I was Ibyeong-a.  And he looked in my eyes and asked me where I was going.  I told him, and we both knew it was the stop the train was slowing down for.  And I was sad to go and we waved goodbye to each other. 

So I think I met the perfect man, who will forever remain perfect because we never got to reality.  And it made me smile because in his mouth was that cough drop and I imagine him going to some meeting with that flavor in his mouth, thinking about us instead of that meeting, and maybe he’ll always associate the subway and cough drops with tiny yearning lost me.

*****

The conference was less a waste of time this year – one speaker actually kept us awake, though there wasn’t a lot of content in his speach, he did share a lot of resources with us – it’s mostly of value to meet other teachers and know you’re not alone.  So had a nice time with about four of them, it was nice to be able to effortlessly have casual conversation with people (who were mostly all mellower and long out of college) who sought me out to speak with, and especially Kaki, who just happened to be a friend of professor Smolin’s and was very interested in my story, and with whom we exchanged numbers and she invited me over to her place for documentary indi movie nights and…only just as I was hitting the bathroom prior to leaving, my phone fell into the toilet. 

*****

Despite all efforts to rescussitate the phone, it didn’t survive.  So that meant all plans for the weekend were thrown into chaos and I had no way to contact my friend who I was staying with, or the fellow Holt survivor I would be meeting today.  I traveled to my friend’s home in Itaewon, but she wasn’t home, so I went to the phone store and decided I had to purchase a new phone right then and there.

With only 15 minutes to spare before the phone company’s computer system shut down for the night and a language/communication barrier, the saleslady managed to do every short-cut immaginable and I had to sign up for another two year contract, since I didn’t have $600 bucks to just buy a phone without one.  And because I didn’t have my bank book with my bank account number, she even put down HER OWN BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER on the forms!  I had to pay my existing phone bill balance in cash, and I tried to let her keep the change for her kindness and she said, that she should be paying me because her English was so bad!  None of my phone numbers would transfer off of the old phone, unfortunately, and I have to text her my bank account information today.  But I’m totally blown away by this Korean’s hospitality – just amazing.

*****

Tired, exhausted, no where to sleep, my pocket book hemorraghing from the unexpected expenses, I decided to sleep in a jim jil bang and caught a taxi.  Only the taxi driver was unfamiliar with the area.  He stopped and asked other taxi drivers, who sent us on wild goose chases.  He put in sauna in the GPS and we ended up in places where no sauna existed.  He looked at me and said with great tenderness (in Korean) that I looked sleepy, and I explained how my handuh pone had died and my chingu’s pone number was obpsoyo.  Since we had traveled from the southern end of central Seoul (Itaewon) to the northern end of central soul (Euljiro) I just decided to go to my favorite love motel, near gwangwhamun palace.  Because the taxi driver couldn’t understand my directions, we stopped a random man in the street who could understand English, and the man was really really helpful translating. During the remainder of the ride, the taxi driver took it upon himself to teach me some Korean.  When we arrived, I was so relieved and thankful for him, and I paid him the 11bucks and then went into my home away from home and paid the 35 more bucks for the night. 

Took a long, luxurious BATH.  Checked my EMAIL, and then slept like a rock.

Koreans were very very good to me this weekend.  I wish I could take all these people home with me.  I hope these acts of kindness sustain me for many months.

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