School is usually pretty crazy. I mean, I never quite know what to expect. Well, today was more special than most days.
First, I decided to make cookies for the teachers in my office. America mom sent me one of those just-add-water-and-oil packets for peanut butter cookies and the school has a beautiful home ec room. So the cookies were quite successful. I feel like I will be baking a lot in the future. Yes!
The students just finished their national exams and I've never seen them so exhausted. One of my favorite students came into the home ec room while I was baking to say hello. He looked like he was going to fall asleep talking to me. I fed him some cookie dough (I wish I could have fed him some shut eye) and he seemed a little happier.
Dear Korea Educational Board: just because you keep students in school for 12-14 hours a day, 6 days a week doesn't mean they learn more.
Anyways. The exams meant that I had my morning free. Which is why I baked cookies.
Well, after the cookies, I got an inter-office instant message. The messages are usually in Korean, and for fun I use Google Translator to figure out what they're talking about. They're usually pretty boring and not very useful. But today the first one was a gold mine:
"Yes, my finger is broken. Yesterday pay seokjyeon condolences today at 2 pm exactly. We will go to the morgue together. Volleyball will be at 4 pm."
I noticed that people were collecting money (which Fulbright told us was customary for deaths). Well, with my noonchi roaring, I asked my co-teacher if I could contribute to the death money pot. She seemed really surprised but handed me an envelop. The lady who sits across from me in the office lost her father-in-law.
Cool. Here's $20.
Nope. Not that easy. Next thing I know, my co-teacher is leading me to a car. We squeeze four tiny teachers in the back of a tiny Kia and drive to the ::gulp:: morgue. Oh God. Really? Are we really going to the morgue?
But, my fair readers, I did it for you.
We drove to the back of the hospital, parked illegally in a handicap spot (pretty common practice around these parts) and headed down a side alley toward a dark back entrance. I walked into the morgue expecting to come face to face with sheet-covered bodies and pungent odors. But instead I met a dozen somber-looking women in black hanboks (I'd never seen them before) and half a dozen men in black suits. The women were cooking.
There was an alter, exactly the same as the ones from my death day celebration and Chuseok with a picture (thankfully NOT an open casket) of the deceased. The teachers and I stood in front of the alter and performed the formal bow twice facing the alter and once for the three men in suits next to the alter.
I'm pretty sure that the man just passed. The men all had red, puffy eyes. And the woman I work with was trying very hard to keep her composure.
It really surprised me, the whole culture of paying respects. I feel that, in the states, you generally give people you know professionally room to grieve on their own. You know? And since Koreans try so hard to remain even-faced, I would have thought that entertaining guests so near to a death would not really be the norm.
But, on the other hand, Korea is all about community. After all, this country survived some of the most difficult history in the world. The only way they survived, recovered, moved-on and prospered was through the complete cooperation and support of each other. So, driving back to school I thought about just how communal this culture is: sharing of food, sharing of drinks, sharing of space, sharing of clothes, sharing of stuff. Of course they would share grief. That's just the way you move on here. So I decided. Yep. The death procedure here is pretty cool.
Well, back at school the last sentence of the e-mail made itself clear. There would, in fact, be teacher volleyball at 4pm. And I was, in fact, encouraged to join in. So, at 4pm I joined the faculty volleyball team in the gym. Yep. I was the only female. Awesome. Did I mention that I don't really do ball sports?
But, thankfully, I had an easy crowd. Every time I touched the ball, everyone let out a whirl of "ooo's" and "woooowwww's." Yep, girls play ball sports, too.
After the game (my team won thanks to the ridiculous effort of the chain-smoking P.E. teacher with a very mean spike) I was heading back to my building (the gym is separate from where I teach) when my co-teacher said, "Amy, will you share with us?" I looked over and realized that they had pulled out 12 cans of beer and a small bottle of un-opened Gatorade. Ho boy. So I enjoyed a nice glass of beer with my fellow cohorts.
I felt that the beer was pretty much the perfect ending of my wacky Wednesday. From cookies to funerals to volleyball, this is just how it is. Well, at least I'm never bored. :)
I felt really rebellious. I could not believe I was doing this. I could not believe that I was actually doing this. I was walking into work 20 minutes before my first class (10:30 a.m.). Thursday's and Friday's I don't have class until 10:50, but I still usually show up around 9:15 or so when school starts. I don't know why I do that, especially because I just sit blogging or on Facebook wishing I was home talking on Skype. Typical Gen-Y, I know. So today I decided to blame it on the contract (which says that I only need to be at school when I teach).
I did my three classes and walked out the door (thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm actually doing it.") a little before 4pm. Ah, yes. What a nice day.
Well, karma catches up to you. I decided to change the oil of my scooter before I went up to the apartment. So, I drove home, parked my scooter and changed my oil. Well, the oil-access is inside the seat chamber, where I also store my helmet. I finished with the oil and was putting my helmet in the chamber when a series of terrible things happened in slow motion in ways that I continue to replay in my mind.
My hands were kind of full; I was juggling the bulky helmet, sunglasses, keys and had a purse slung over my shoulder. Well, as I was rearranging the things in my hand the wind picked up behind me, which blew my purse off of my shoulder. I went to grab it (because heaven forbid if it fell) and dropped my keys into the chamber. As soon as the keys hit the chamber floor, my wildly flying bag hit the upright seat (the seat folds out and up so you can access the chamber), slamming it shut before I could react.
So there I was, outside of my apartment, staring at my scooter and trying really hard not to imagine how funny this entire situation might have looked had I been sitting on a lounge chair 30 feet away.
Of course the school does not have a spare key. So, here comes the locksmith. I was told repeatedly by my co-teacher (who arranged the locksmith) that I shouldn't put my keys in the chamber and I should be more careful next time. I really wanted to say, "Well, I really like keeping my keys in a safe place such as the seat chamber," but my co-teacher's limited English would not adequately transfer the sarcasm (and perhaps shred of irritation at being treated like a child).
Then, the locksmith made me, not one, but two spare keys. One for school and one for home. Yeah, yeah. I get it. You two loons think I walk around throwing my keys into terrible places. But, realizing that this was a huge annoyance for my co-teacher and cost my school some money, I expressed nothing but the most sincere gratitude for their outstanding efforts.
Pfsh. Two keys. Really.
Ahem. I've already lost one of the spares. ... *Gulp* I guess I have 200-some days to find it...
Also, Wednesday was my 100th day in Korea. Happy First Hundred!