The more I know, the less I believe.

Why is my life semi-hilarious?

When I got to school this morning, I was greeted by the sound of opera being sung in a deep bass -- the music teacher was emptying trash out of his car into the school dumpster and giving one hell of a performance while he was at it. We obviously cannot communicate much, given his lack of English and my lack of Korean, but ever since the infamous noraebang bus night, he has greeted me so warmly in the mornings that I can't help but give the girliest of sheepish smiles, which is always rewarded with a big emphatic grin in return. What a fantastic way to start the day.

That university student guy has been sending me emails in literally the most broken English I have ever encountered, besides out of some of my students. And the best part is his suggestion (I think) that I respond in Korean. But at this rate, I might as well. The idea of a language exchange is a beautiful thing, but I don't think either one of us is at the level yet where it's a productive activity. I might tell him if he wants to meet to work on English out of a book, that's cool, but this whole conversation thing is beyond us both at the moment. Unless he wants to just hang out playing darts again.

At least he's trying. Mad props for that.

I also ate nine jeju oranges today. There was a particularly generous group of teachers in the office and ever since the Michael Magnes Persimmon Incident of '08, I'm really nervous about trying to take them home.

VP has gone and broken my heart by not even giving my awkward (and pointless) presence a second look today. I guess I'm incarcerated for the week, after all.

Uh. On a more serious note, I feel like some sort of major apology is owed by me -- not to anyone who reads this, but to people to whom it may not be given, due to its context.

I've really been a fool.

Coteacher was in the office today, and as a result, the other female teachers were much more open toward me for the first time. When I told Coteacher about my trip to Paris, she gasped and pulled up a chair -- wanted all the details. Suddenly she suggested that we take a trip to Indochina together in the spring, and while the initial notion filled me with dread, I found myself easily persuaded for reasons I couldn't altogether pin down -- something in the fragility, the eagerness of her tone.

I've made certain short-sighted and rash judgments about my female coworkers, without giving them a proper chance. I should know by now that culture, especially as it relates to gender, cannot be understood in a glance.

Every morning I see the women bustle into the office dressed to the nines -- make up and stilettos -- and watch as they fix the coffee, wash the cups and giggle conspicuously at the male teachers' jokes, as they bring them their coffee and tea. Even while at separate tables in the lunch room, the conversation (as far as it is conveyed to me, anyway) remains on the vague, the pleasant and the superficial -- who's getting married, who bought their shoes where, who's losing or gaining weight.

I don't know why I made the automatic assumption that how the women are around the men is simply how the women are....

And I haven't expressed much interest in them up to this point because of this assumption.

I should know better by now.

Today after work ended, Coteacher invited me to have dinner with her and some of the other female teachers. A little fearful of the result (Korean conversation and me, locked out), I agreed anyway, thinking it's better to at least try.

The conversation at dinner quickly shifted to the subject of my impending trip - how lucky I am to be young, how smart to be unmarried. I was fucking shocked to hear the women suddenly speak very frankly and intelligently about their own marriages, or (in the cases of the unmarried) perceived issues about marriage -- the roles they are expected to fulfill as Korean women, how they feel they must choose between a lonely future or a life spent hiding and denying who they really are.

They said, emphatically and unanimously, that I had the right idea -- told me to never marry, continue with my studies and travels, and stay free.

I tried (in the interest of balance) to explain that in my view, marriage, raising children -- these are the brave things to do. I said also that, while it's good to be single while I'm young, I sometimes worry about being alone in old age, to which one teacher wryly responded, "In old age, I think you will have pension to care for you!"

To put it simply, I've been so unfair to these women that I don't know where to begin with my regret. While my conversations with my male coworkers have been filled with the things I loathe -- lament over the lack of a romantic partner, longing for marriage at all costs, etc. -- my time alone with my female coworkers has proved to be full of intelligent, insightful and rather witty social commentary, frank and vulnerable observations about their own lives -- the kind of thing I've been dearly missing in my daily interactions.

And more importantly, I've learned to some extent for myself what's really behind this culture's current outcry about a so-called marriage crisis.

It's one thing to hear the men whine senselessly on about empty beds and no one to phone in the evenings. It's another thing entirely to hear the women explain the reasoning behind it all.

I'm still perplexed by the notion that the men should be left out of these enlightening conversations. But it's not for me to understand just yet. Now is the time to perk up my ears and pay closer attention to the things that are going on around me, so that I can better understand.

In short, what I'm beginning to realize is that the segregation I've observed between the genders is not as self-inflicted or senseless as I at first thought -- there are genuinely two different worlds at work here. There isn't just the perceived idea that men and women are different -- there is some truth to it, albeit not in the realm of biological reality, but rather within the context of culture.

As a Western woman, I have the privilege of easily traveling between the two groups. And I will definitely be using that to my advantage in the future.

I like hitting these pockets of ignorance in my own perception of things from time to time. As Coteacher put it tonight, "The older I get, the more unsure I am." She said this in response to my argument that her getting older earns her a certain amount of respect for the wisdom she has acquired, and this is not a fact that is to be mourned. Although she meant it as a rebuttal of my statement, I see it very much in support of it. As the saying goes, the more you know, the less you believe.

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