Thursday, February 17, 2011

Surprise! (21 January)

Today is the last day of the conversation classes.  As of Monday, we officially have no work to do at school – at least, in theory we have no work to do but I still have to mark the final journal entries the freshmen wrote a week ago at the end of winter camp.  Since today is the last lesson, we’ve decided to use the Korean competitive spirit to our advantage and will be grouping students randomly to demonstrate the various speaking exercises they’ve been practising over the past two weeks.  We’ve also brought appropriate prizes: Candy! 

The lesson is very successful and the students really get involved in the discussion with great comical effect. One student in particular, a boy, is highly entertaining and very good natured when the conversation turns towards his three wives, four girlfriends and whether or not he’s gay.  The lesson passes far too quickly and we’re soon left with nothing to do for the remainder of the day but count the hours and eventually minutes until the end of the day when NZ2 and I are meeting Catfish and two other kiwis at Angel-in-us where we’ll then go to dinner.

NZ2 has organised tonight’s social event but clearly doesn’t travel often from Soryong-dong to Naun-dong at 17:00 on a weekday.  In theory, the trip should only take about 10 minutes but we have to factor in traffic which makes the trip completely unpredictable.  Incredibly, we manage to find taxi within seconds of leaving school and we’re soon on our way to Lotte mart since we don’t know what to tell a taxi driver in order to get to Angel-in-us.  When we arrive at Lotte mart, NZ2 seems determined to make it to the coffee shop by 17:30 exactly despite my reassurances that everyone will understand if we’re a few minutes late – after all, we’re the only ones who live on the opposite side of town while they’re all within reasonable walking distance of the venue. 

Be Careful Who You Talk About

Somehow we manage to make it to Angel-in-us by 17:30 where Catfish, our Kiwi-mom and her husband are already waiting.  I introduce NZ2 to the other New Zealanders and excuse myself to use the restroom. When I return, NZ2 is recounting the story of how Mr Jeong and some of the other teachers at our school thought that he and I should get together.  I then add my two cents’ worth including the fact that I spoke to my co-teacher about this very matter after lunch today at school.  She assures me that she knows that NZ2 are only friends and that only people over 40 years of age might find it difficult to understand that men and women of marriageable age can be just friends.  In other words – I only need to worry about what three-quarters of the teachers at school think instead of all of them!

I’m just finishing sharing this story when I feel a hand on my arm and hear someone say, “I’m sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to say hello to Sarah.” As I turn to the speaker, I can feel surprise take control as I realise it’s my co-teacher – about whom I’ve just been speaking – and I’m confused; my brain starts working overtime as it tries to work out why my co-teacher is in this coffee shop.  I introduce her to my friends and then look around for her husband or family to say hello since I assume that she must be having coffee with one of them or a friend.  As I look around, however, part of my brain registers that they all live in Jeonju (including my co-teacher) so they wouldn’t be meeting at Angel-in-us in Gunsan; in addition, I said goodbye to her an hour ago when she helped me with the timer on the heating system in my apartment before telling me that she was going home. 

Catfish recently told me that I think very quickly and that the emotions attached to my thoughts often flash across my face in succession before I even say a word.  It seems my brain processes information very quickly and I struggle to keep my thoughts hidden while my brain does this processing.  If this is so, I can only imagine the expressions that flash across my face as my very confused brain tries its best to process what, exactly, is happening. 

I Can't Figure This Out...

After a futile attempt to see where my co-teacher is sitting in the coffee shop, I glance back at my friends who have suddenly all started taking out gifts and placing them on the table in front of me.  I look back and forth between my co-teacher and my friends, none of whom seem surprised to see each other.  It’s only when my Kiwi-mom invites my co-teacher to sit down and NZ2 tells her that her timing was perfect as he pulls out his camera that I finally realise tonight’s dinner has been turned into a surprise birthday party for me.  Ironically, Catfish and I had been planning to organise a surprise birthday party for our Kiwi-mom whose birthday is on Monday (three days before mine) but we haven’t been successful; to discover that tonight’s dinner was turned into a surprise party for me was something truly unexpected and a very special gesture. 

My co-teacher can only stay a few minutes but her taking the time just to stop by Angel-in-us – particularly since she lives in Jeonju – means more to me than she’ll probably ever realise!  Catfish later tells me that when NZ2 asked if she had any suggestions as to what to get me as a birthday present, she suggested inviting Six-pack to tonight’s dinner.  Since he would’ve been the only non-English speaker – and therefore an unrealistic birthday present – she suggested NZ2 invite my co-teacher to join us.  For the record, having my co-teacher join us for 10 minutes is far better than having Six-pack attend! Besides, the cute doctor is on my birthday wishlist this year…

From there, we decide on the Pasta Steakhouse next door for dinner.  The food’s not too bad but the company is fantastic.  We order steak and wine and conversation flows easily as we catch up on news with each other after the Christmas and New Year vacation periods.  So well-organised is this party that my friends have even bought me a birthday cake with a candle which they now take out and sing “happy Birthday” to me. 

After dinner, Catfish, NZ2, another South African and I head back to Angel-in-us coffee shop where we end up chatting for several hours.  The other South African invites another friend of hers – a Brit – to join us. He’s just renewed his contract for another year but will now be teaching at two schools instead of one.  He’s soon regaling us with hilarity of the possibility that one of his schools might just be on Seonyudo where there are currently no foreign teachers.  We can’t help but make joking suggestions of how he’ll have nearly three hours of travelling each day if he works on Seonyudo which is the islands closest to Gunsan.  We tell him to ask for a speedboat and talk about how living on Seonyudo would make Gunsan seem as exciting and as much of an adventure as Seoul and other larger cities currently are for us.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this particular situation….

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