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Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's A Small Town

This afternoon I went to the dollar (5000W) store to get supplies and I ran into one of my adult students – a single guy about my age, with whom the adjummas in the class are apparently hoping to set me up. He is a really nice fellow, and he went into super relentless helpful mode when I told him I was having trouble finding some tongs to pick up trash, and managed to find them for me. I don't think he really understood what I intended to use them for, though both of us had out our smart phones and were passing digital translations back and forth.

As I walked from the store to the seashore, I encountered one of my third-grade students with his four-year-old brother. My student was hailing a cab, and he and his tiny sibling soon got into one and rode off. I think South Korea (or at least Jeju) is a lot like the US allegedly was in the 1950s in some ways--parents here don't worry about their children going off to play or to the store or riding buses or in cabs alone. It's safe. I can walk the street by myself at night as a female and not worry much about getting assaulted.

At the seaside I quickly proceeded to fill two bags with mostly recyclable refuse that had been tossed down among the rocks or washed up there. Several older locals walking along the road above me called down their thanks. I started the two mile trek back home with my overflowing bags and was overtaken by an older gentleman who insisted on taking the rubbish back to discard at his apartment building. We had a nice chat--he and his wife retired here a year ago from the mainland, his son lives in Seoul and his daughter lives in Dallas, Texas. No grandchildren yet, but he is hopeful. He is a Christian and goes to one of the local Presbyterian churches.

Once I was unencumbered and back on the main road, who should call my name but the school director, with whom I walked and talked for several blocks--she is preoccupied with planning for her eldest daughter's upcoming wedding. She jovially threatened to contact a journalist to record my ocean trash-retrieval efforts. I assured her that I am just trying to be a good guest, not to shame the locals--they are busy enough. Litter bothers me. I hate it on the sides of the roads in Georgia and South Carolina, and I hate it on the beaches here. And here I can clean up some of it.

We met June less than a block from school, and while the director continued to work to lock up the building for the day, we foreigners went off to do some shopping. I need to buy a toaster oven. I want to teach my quiet seventh grade students how to make bread, since that's the topic of the next chapter we are going to be reading in our textbook. Unfortunately, when June and I got off the bus, we found that this was one of the weekends during which the big stores are closed so that small businesses can compete. Darn. So we walked to a nearby hamburger restaurant and ate. I won't get their Nutella milkshake again--it was weak and thin. Their bacon cheeseburgers are pretty peppery, but still the best I have had hereabouts. And I would have to be starving to eat at McDonald's.

We were returning to the bus stop when we saw a long-awaited poster on the movie marquee: for Hidden Figures. So we went to the cinema to see when it was playing, and ran into our English colleague and her Yorkshire boyfriend, who were just emerging from watching Beauty and the Beast. Sadly, Hidden Figures is only showing in the mornings. I hope it stays around through next Saturday – then I'll surely be able to see it!

Grades for this month are due on Monday. One of my first graders will not be getting a good conduct mark. On Thursday, I preemptively removed his Apple Watch, but he took his shoes off and began shooting his socks across the room at other students. I confiscated the socks. However, he did not do any of the work (one page of tracing the letters G, H, and I), but was constantly out of his seat, bouncing around. At one point he was standing on top of a desk. Then he proceeded to poke his arm through the neck of his shirt and flex for the girls, showing off his muscles. The girls ran around and squealed. Since the boy was totally ignoring me, I called the male co-director to hike up the stairs to the fifth floor and talk to the small miscreant, which resulted in said boy's putting his clothes back on and sitting down for the last few of minutes of the period. Meanwhile, during all this upheaval, another boy in the class, a round little mild-mannered fellow, had fallen into a deep sleep in his chair, his head flung back and his mouth open. I did check a couple of times to make sure he was still breathing. It turns out he was quite ill with a bad headache. 

Several of my grade school classes had tests over the last couple of days, and a question on the speaking portion for one book asked each student to talk for three sentences about what their family members had been doing earlier in the week. And I found out that one of my fifth graders is the only child of a single mother. So he added a tree to the family and answered the question that way. I gave him a pass.

My adult students have been talking about hobbies. One woman told me that she doesn't have a hobby right now because she takes care of her elderly parents. Her father is 99 years old and in good health – he took up calligraphy as his own hobby 40 years ago and practices it every day. Her mother is 96, but suffers from dementia – each morning my student takes the old lady to a health center for daytime care and each night she picks her up. The parents' bedroom is right across from hers and her husband's, so they can hear if the older couple needs anything. Meanwhile, their son, who attended university in the US but returned home without graduating, is studying for the notoriously difficult Korean Civil Service Exam. 

I was looking at some historical photographs of this area, and only 40-50 years ago Jeju had mostly dirt roads and thatched huts. It's amazing how much has changed in the interim. I hope it doesn't get over-developed, though. The soil is so rich. I would love to have a garden plot surrounded by a traditional mortar-free lava-stone wall. I would grow onions the size of bowling balls, and carrots with the heft of baseball bats.

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