Monday, May 29, 2017

Courtesy & A Woodland Walk

Most of my grade-school students do not bow to me. The vast majority do not even nod their little heads in greeting, though many of the younger ones grin, wave, and call my name enthusiastically, which always lifts my spirits. But I am glad that among my middle schoolers there is one guy who always inclines in thanks after lessons. Bowing is a mark of respect here. And the fact that most kids don't bother to do so within the hagwon system hasn't distressed me until recently. But as I've dealt with a spate of logistical and behavioral issues this last week, the absence of bowing has started to chafe  a bit. I am these kids' teacher, and I spend an increasing (!) amount of time each week deciding what and how to teach. Particularly among the older students, it seems to me that they should recognize the effort. And so when this one kind fellow bows, I feel like the lesson has been a success, that someone appreciates my work.

Saturday a week ago I went on a long walk with one of my adult students. Her second son recently went into the military for his obligatory 21 months of service. We drove up into the higher hills to a trail she knew, but the forest service had closed the regular parking area and was directing everyone to a alternative space  a little more than a mile distant.  There was a free shuttle bus between the parking area and the trailhead. Standing room only when we boarded. The trail was great. One of the many things that I like about Jeju is the fact that their hiking trails are covered with woven hemp matting, natural fiber rugs which both prevent erosion and cushion the feet, making forest excursions  comfortable and quiet. We walked almost 6 miles, to the other end of the trail, where another shuttle bus (we thought) would be available. It wasn't. It was a good thing the weather was lovely and the conversation and company were delightful, because we had to walk all the way back to where we started! By the sides of the trail were ferns in the shape of enormous badminton shuttlecocks, and wicked-looking vegetable  purple chalices under green leaves that my friend told me had been a source of poison for executions and assassinations during the Joseon period. Apparently some people are even allergic to touching the plant, but I am not. In one forest of ramrod straight Japanese cedars – each tagged with its own little numbered disk– a young couple was getting their pre-wedding portraits made. Every so often we passed beehive boxes, as the area is well known for its delicious honey, and a blue farm truck trundled through.. One of my coworkers' parents keep bees, and I was able to buy several liters of beautiful anber honey from her last week

This past Friday morning, I met June and another colleague (Tori) and her boyfriend at a seaside swimming hole, where the fathoms-deep water was clear down to the bottom. It was really lovely. And chilly, before I got used to the water temperature. I managed to fall down several times on the rocks and give myself lacerations and deep bruises, but I still had a good time. I even jumped off a rock about 12 feet up into the pool. I'm not a particularly good swimmer, but it's much easier to stay buoyant in salt water than in fresh. It was also the first day I had taken my kick scooter out, and I managed to get the skirt I was wearing caught in the back wheel as I was going down a hill. I stopped safely, but the skirt was torn. Cheesecloth doesn't last forever! So I tore it off at an above the knee length and discarded the remainder. When I got home I discovered that my wounds were worse than previously assessed, and I've been hobbling around ever since.

Friday night I hosted an impromptu dinner for my colleagues (four other native English speakers and one Korean). I should host more often. I love having people over. I lit tea lights in the trio of holders I bought at the art fair in Seoul.  I've never had tea lights last more than an hour, and these have burned for more than four.

Saturday we went out to Tori's house in the countryside. Her garden overlooks the sea. We ate a delicious meal which her boyfriend prepared while we girls walked their big black moggie on a red lead in the sunny outdoors. They have a palm tree in their yard that produces fruit that is lethal to cats, hence their peculiar precautions on behalf of their pet. We sat around their table talking and laughing until it got dark, and then the four of us went down to the area by the new naval base, where the villagers are still protesting the military installation, and talked about past jobs and peculiar people we'd encountered. It was a lovely day.

Sunday June and I tried a new church, where the Koreans in attendance actually spoke to us, smiled and said we were welcome. It was awesome. The girl who had invited us to go with her took us to her favorite coffee shop afterwards. The signs for the toilets illustrated the urination position for the designated users. The front patio was given over to chalk drawings by little kids. Our hostess told us that many coffee shops on Jeju do not welcome children, but clearly this one did – and dogs too, as one little white one trailed its master in and came over to our table to be patted.

Tonight, the gas in my apartment has run out, so I am heating water for bathing using my electric kettle. Hopefully the truck with the new tanks will be by tomorrow! I really love hot showers.

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