I’ve been admonished several times by my grandmother that I need to conclude this thing, so here it is. I’ve been home for a little over a month now. The last few weeks of Korea were a whirlwind, trying to finish work and tutoring, pack everything, and maximize the amount of time I could spend with friends and say goodbye.
I guess I have to start way back in mid-November. I had to work one Saturday each in November and December, which was aggravating. But I made up for it by making fun plans for afterward! In November, some people gathered at an amazing buffet at the Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul for my friend Jenna’s birthday. Fifteen minutes before closing time we stealthily approached the bar and snuck bottles back to our table. Then later, after we were finished taking their all you can drink wine offer literally, Casey talked us all into tequila shots, and I spent the next day curled up in the fetal position on the couch. But I was happy to celebrate with Jenna Teacher! Now she has moved on from her teaching gig and she is working for Yonhap News (akin to the AP in Korea) copy-editing for their English section. I am so proud of her! Chingus moving up in the world!
I celebrated Thanksgiving 2012 more fiercely than any other in Korea (as in, I actually ate turkey this year.) My friend Michelle invited several of us over to her lovely home in Itaewon. Her husband is in the Army, so they got everything for an amazing dinner on base. It was so nice to eat yummy food and hang out. She was expecting at the time (and still an excellent hostess) but she just delivered her baby, Jack Jiwon. So congratulations Michelle and David! Then the next night we had reservations at a microbrewery called Craftworks for another Thanksgiving dinner, which turned out to be amazing too. So I was a full and happy Lauren Teacher that weekend.
In December, my second-to-last Saturday was spent at school making up my first (and only) snowday. Boo. Give me a hurricane day in slacker Florida any day, I’ve decided. That night was spent in Itaewon at dinner with Jenna, Casey, and Suna, and later in Sinchon for a show my friend Ryan performed, which is always very fun. The following weekend was another friend’s birthday, so we went to an amazing all you can eat, all you can drink buffet (we were really good at finding those) and then the party reconvened back at my apartment, which was in shambles, but we still managed to have enough fun to get in trouble with the neighbors.
That Friday, I met with one of the people I tutored, a businessman named Bill who studied English with me twice a week and Japanese with another tutor three times a week. Amazing! He was one of my favorite people in Korea because he offered me a perspective I didn’t usually get to hear or learn from. The Korean men I met were generally my age; the Korean people I met who were older than me were almost exclusively women. Also, our tutoring sessions were primarily conversation practice, so we spent an hour or two each week just talking about anything we could think of. He grew up right after the war, so he experienced a starkly different Korea than any of us can imagine, and we talked a lot about the missing generation compared to the American generation gap. His generation would be more akin to the “Greatest Generation” here in America, having endured a serious economic depression and war, with widespread poverty to boot. On the other hand, his sons, who are my age, and I are pretty similar in experiences and expectations. On my last day, he gave me a ceremonial wooden mask as a departing present, like the ones I saw at the mask dance in the Andong folk village my first year. It is so nice. We are keeping in touch on Facebook but I miss our morning chats. For both their sakes, I hope his tutor now shows up less bleary-eyed than me at 7 am.
Bill taught me an important Korean expression for my last two days at school: “majimak suob,” which means “last lesson.” On Thursday, I met with my fifth and sixth graders for our majimak suob, and it was one of the hardest classes to say goodbye to. We were due for a Christmas Carol competition during the last period, and they were totally unfamiliar with the words, so we listened to the song fifty times, made cute signs to wave during the performance, and ate a bunch of snacks. It was good bonding time. At the end, I told them they didn’t have to hug me or anything, since Koreans aren’t really huggy people, but with the exception of one (who has surprised me since by emailing me on a regular basis), they all gave me a big hug. We’ve been keeping in touch on KakaoStory, which has been really nice. My goodbyes in kindergarten the next morning were kind of anti-climactic. Karry made me a paper heart but Raphael was a jerk and ripped it up at lunch, so Karry slipped me a note with the most precious apology. Later that day I found her Minnie Mouse notepad in her cubby, so I left her a note thanking her for the heart, assuring her it was okay, that I still had 30 other things she’s made me , and that I hoped she would email me and stay in touch. I got an email from her after New Year’s! So sweet. In one of my second and third grade classes, I took aside one girl who had been struggling a lot but also opening up a lot and working hard and gave her a big hug and told her I was so proud of her and if she kept working hard she would be great at English. Then she started crying. Major sad.
On my last “sleep” in Korea, Suna, Naomi, Jenna, Casey, and Riana showed up to take me out to dinner. We ate at my favorite meat restaurant, with a huge, bubbling vat of kimchi jjigae to share. Then they came back and raided what I hadn’t yet packed, which was a shameful lot of things. All of them are pretty organized and responsible and thorough so they were shocked. I have times where I can be, but packing isn’t one of them. Suna took a suitcase, and as much stuff as she could fit in it home with her. Jenna took home everything she’d given me when she left in June, Casey took most of my food still left, and I think I snuck stuff in Riana’s purse when she wasn’t looking. Then they also gave me a precious card which made me cry later. Between Yvonne, Ryan, Min, Casey, Jenna, Riana, Naomi, and Suna, I was very lucky to work with people who also became treasured friends.
The teacher who arrived to replace me seemed very nice and like he would be a great teacher in no time. From Kakao updates, I understand my little hoodlums are still running wild, and the most mischevious one still doesn’t have any reservations about whipping his junk out in front of everyone in class, so I pray for him often. But I guess you have to sink or swim…
The morning I left for the airport, I was struggling to drag my suitcases from my apartment to the airport bus stop. It wouldn’t be Korea if a kind passerby didn’t stop and help me tote one, and ask me questions about myself, and apologize for his English, and ask me if I had a boyfriend, and in this case, make me listen to the Beatles on his iPhone. And stand and wait fifteen minutes for the bus to come with me. …and push the bus driver away and insist on loading them in the luggage compartment himself. …and stand by the sign and wave sadly as I got seated on the bus, and continue waving as the bus pulled away. It started off cute, and ended awkward, which is everything lovable about Korea. Sooo I’m glad we had that moment.
Another departing memory to treasure: bear in mind, Incheon is arguably the nicest airport in the world, if several prestigious travel awards are any indicator. I got my last bite of bibimbap with Yvonne, who was sweet enough to meet me there and spend time with me before I had to go through security. When we debated getting a beer before I left, I first thought we would find a bar somewhere. But wise Yvonne Teacher had something more sentimental and uniquely Korean in mind. Maybe you remember from my first entries that there are no open container laws in Korea? So it’s a-okay to buy cans of Cass from the convenience store in the departures area, walk over to the lovely historical architecture exhibit, and pop a top inside a replica of a palace building. If Tim Riggins ever visited Korea, this is exactly what he would do. (I wish I had been as deep into Friday Night Lights then as I am now, I totally would have made her cheers “Korea forever”.)
I miss Korea really badly right now during this downtime, but I hope when something new starts the excitement will take away the sadness and all I will have are happy memories left. Sometimes I think of it as a privilege and a comfort to know I have friends scattered in all corners of the world, but when I’m stuck in my little part for the time being, it’s more frustrating than anything. Lots of people still in Korea, some people relocating within the US, and one gallivanting off to Singapore and Vietnam next week (I’m looking at you, Matthew.) I wish I could have fun everywhere with everyone at once.
I really don’t like this website for blogging, so I’m trying to start a new venture. I mostly just hate WordPress. I bought laurenbankert.com a few weeks ago. Toying with that, we’ll see how that goes. I would be delighted if Lauren’s Korean Adventures could be reopened one day, in a new venture other than teaching. I miss Seoul with all my heart and if any possibility presents itself to go back one day I am so on it. You should be too.