Today, it was all men in the office, plus me. The one PE teacher that lives in my apartments is absolutely killing me. The man is gorgeous, and lately he's taken to wearing these bright red button down shirts underneath a black leather bomber jacket, collar up. A nice, well-worn pair of grey jeans, black boots. I don't know what goes on in the ROK over winter vacation, but he's not he first to turn up with a completely different look after a couple of months off. He used to dress atrociously, the worst example I can think of being a purple puffy vest over an orange fleece zip-up... thing. Suddenly, he's gone pure James Dean. Every time he walks past, I have trouble not replaying that moment on the night of the teachers' outing when he approached me in the dark hallway and said, simply: "Liz. You will come home with me."
Trouble is, brother doesn't speak a word of English. And not in the usual coy kind of way. He genuinely doesn't. And he prays before his meals. And I've noticed that he doesn't drink. I know a hardcore Christian when I smell one. So even learning Korean won't solve this one. And it's a less-than-good idea to dabble around in nonsense with coworkers, anyway. Still, he sure is nice to have around. In that crushingly distracting kind of way....
Around 12:30 today, there was a sudden and unmistakable buzz of tension in the office. I wasn't sure why, but I had a feeling it had something to do with me. The men had gathered in a far corner and were having a quiet debate in Korean about something or another. Suddenly, a conclusion was reached, and one PE teacher ran from the room to fetch Mr. Kim, another English teacher, from next door. What these guys have no way of knowing is that Mr. Kim doesn't speak much more English than they do. The men converged upon him and explained something I wasn't able to catch, and then they all formed a semi-circle around my desk.
They stood, looking at me as though I was the engine under the popped hood of a car that had stopped running.
I stared back.
Suddenly, Mr. Kim's phone rang and he looked immensely relieved and ran out of the office. The other men continued to contemplate me for a moment, before turning back into a huddle. Some new conclusion was met and, like a huddle, they broke. They gathered their things and put on their jackets.
When the handsome PE teacher approached me at my desk, leaned over and gestured for me to come with him, I scarcely stood a chance at hesitating.
They were taking me to lunch.
The men have a habit, on these scarcely staffed days, of leaving the premises for an hour at a time. It always makes me feel a little glum to be automatically left behind with the women-folk, while the men are off doing God knows what. Today was a group that I have absolutely confirmed to speak next to zero English -- they were without the young PE teacher who is magnificent in English, for no apparent reason. And there were no women around to shove me off onto. It's not that they wanted me there -- they had no other choice. As uncomfortable as I make them, without other women or Mr. K or the young PE teacher to bridge the gap, they couldn't just leave me alone in the cold office.
The analogy I used to Mike about how they treat me when I'm left in their charge was a retarded baby dog. I'll add crippled to that now, actually. It's not unpleasant -- just really funny. They opened doors and showed me how to use the seat belt in the car, arranged my cushion on the floor at the restaurant, hung up my coat. Explained in mime that if my soup was too hot, I could put a bit in a little bowl to let it cool off. Unwrapped my hand wipe for me.
There was immense hesitation once we all entered the restaurant for anyone to sit before I did. Once I did, an argument ensued (in Korean, which I was able to understand most of) about who had to sit next to me, based on whose English was the strongest. In the end, the nerdy math teacher got cajoled into it, while the VP valiantly stepped up to take the seat across from me. The music teacher, who doesn't mind me at all (since we both speak the language of art and free spirits and don't need to worry about English), shoved past the other men to take his seat next to the VP. Well, hello.
A large bottle of rice wine was placed on the table, and when I accepted it when a bowl was offered to me, a universal roar swept over the table. They all put in a bit of effort to come up with the joint cooperative explanation: "Korean ..... traditional.... alcohol."
They fell on the food like wolves when it arrived. I used to be a pretty quick eater, myself, but the whole learning-to-use-chopsticks process slowed me down for a long time, as did my habit of carefully observing how everything should be eaten, and these days I eat at an irregular (for me) lady-like pace. So, when they had scarfed down their meals at a break-neck pace (no more than ten minutes in total) and looked over to see me with my bowl still 3/4 full, a bit of a panic broke out. They first discussed the matter amongst themselves, conspicuously pointing, and then decided to take it up with me in Korean, after the married PE teacher informed them that I seemed to speak a bit yesterday. Unfortunately, due mostly to nerves probably, I wasn't able to make out any of what they were saying, other than the name of the school, for some reason, which threw me off.
Finally, the VP took it upon himself to come up with the explanation that, "You. Food. Not delicious." I tried to explain that the food was fine, I just eat a little slower than a pack of half-starved animals might. And not quite as much. But none of it seemed to sink in. They all stared at my mostly full bowl with looks of regrettable defeat. At which point the music teacher swept up everyone else's half empty bowls of wine and emptied them into his own, indicated mine sitting across from me and proposed a toast: "Bravo! Chink chink!"
When they all lit cigarettes on the sidewalk outside, I nearly died and tried to inhale as much of the second-hand smoke as I could.
When we got back to the office, some sort of wrestling match broke out for some reason, centering around the PE teachers physically harassing the little math teacher. I had the sudden feeling of being back in my classroom. They also caught me sending Wan texts and Mike emails and came to the conclusion that I've now got a boyfriend. They wonder if he is Korean. I pretended not to understand any of this.
Not a bad day, all in all. More good students in to chat with for a bit. But I have the distinct feeling they're going to find a way to leave me behind tomorrow, come hell or high water.
Sorry for being an English bomb, guys. I'm working on it as fast as I can.
Now, instead of studying Korean like I probably should, I'm going to try to do a little research on this whole Japanese host boys thing. I'm suddenly very much regretting not getting Yoshi's contact information, while I had the chance. I have a feeling having someone on hand who speaks Japanese would be very useful at the moment. Meh. I'll just see what I can find.
Fucking... other languages.