I got forgotten about for lunch again today and, to add insult to injury, went down to find the main office completely empty. Which means only male teachers were in today, and they all went out to a restaurant together (which the male teachers can do, with the VP, while the female teachers have to stay behind and man the phones and babysit the foreigner -- don't get me started). This has all culminated in me deciding that, after two years of literally no bitching about anything, if I decide that I want to re-sign with my school this summer, we're going to the goddamn negotiating table. I don't ask for much, but if they want to keep me on, instead of dealing with some green-as-hell FOB who misses her mom, is terrified of the students and only eats bread out of a bag (my school had a real nasty experience right before I came, involving one hell of a headcase midnight runner who refused to even try Korean food), the VP's going to have to agree to stop making me sit in a cold office alone for nine hours where I may or may not end up actually eating food at all, for reasons the other Korean teachers can't even begin to fathom.
I do take some consolation in that every teacher who encountered me during the last two months first asked if I had any classes, then asked if I had to come in every day, and then clicked their tongues at each other and muttered about how unreasonable our VP is. MJ Oppah straight up told me, "I know you are a very polite person, but sometimes you have to make some trouble." And, given that I've been a major source of face-saving for my school, after the last teacher took off after a month and with the board members who reviewed my demo class and interviewed me afterward saying I was so well-adjusted, they wished they could take me back to their schools, I think I've earned the right to make this one demand. If they reject it, I'll just take it as a sign and head for the country, I suppose.
Anyway, I wasn't having it today, and was plotting staging a one-man walk-out after sending a text to Coteacher informing her of what was going on, when my phone rang. "I think you should just leave. I'll explain the situation to the VP. You are right -- they are not answering the phone. They left you alone. Go home and enjoy your Friday -- you have really earned it."
A beautiful sunny day after months of prolonged, grey icy torture. Like fuck was I heading straight home. I made my way leisurely the mile and a half or so to the major stores on the other side of my neighborhood. In every shop and restaurant on every corner, under the cover of tents on the sidewalk set up by vendors -- even inside the major chain store -- Koreans had stopped going about their daily business and gathered in little clusters to watch Kim Yuna skate.
Korea's nationalistic pride can at times be a real thorn in the side of many foreigners living here, who have to hear about even the most trivial and banal absolutely any old thing related to anyone from Korea that can be interpreted as positive and makes even a drop in the bucket of recognition from the international press for literally months after the occurrence. But. Today, any foreigners who were out and about around one pm would have witnessed a moment of pure and genuine (and altogether deserved) pride on the faces of everyone gathered around a television set. For just a moment, I didn't hear about all this crap after the fact, but got to witness how much it means to Koreans to watch the spotlight be turned on one of their own -- for the world to watch and, for even a moment, acknowledge Korea. This isn't just more whackjob Kim Jong-il baloney (which, god knows Koreans abroad must tolerate countless ignorant comments about on a daily basis). This isn't Rain (who? oh, that ninja guy) being a "world" star. This isn't Lee Hyori (no seriously, who?) "breaking" in the US. This is Korea -- South Korea (creators of Samsung, which is not Japanese, you doggish Americans)-- doing something that the world should, and did, notice.
And, in that short twenty minute walk back to my apartment, I finally understood where all those Monday-morning-at-the-office bragging instincts really come from. It's easy to hear about it after the fact and label it as smug, desperate and ultimately annoying. But seeing the actual joy on the faces of the people stopped in their tracks, hearing the raucous uproar pour out of a department store from a society normally so composed in its daytime public displays, you can't help but cheer them on. Good for you. Good for us. And good for me, for having the privilege of witnessing it.
After returning home, I collected my package (more books) from the building ajeosshi, who was having a vicious argument with four workmen crouched around a gigantic hole right in the middle of the street leading up to our apartment complex. He put his angry negotiations on hold for long enough to smile madly at me and exchange a few pleasantries in Korean (which word has gotten out around the complex I can generally understand these days). On my way in, I passed my downstairs neighbor coming down the stairs carrying a huge piece of furniture (apparently moving out). She glared at me as she hulked the thing past me on the stairs, even as the Korean greeting was coming out of my mouth. I chalked it up to her unpleasant task and tried not to make it about me being a foreigner in her building, and, sure enough, when I passed her again taking the garbage out moments later, she gave me a huge smile, for no apparent reason, other than to make up for the glare from before.
This is why I need the warm weather. It's much easier to endure the little ticks of frustration that come from living in this country from time to time when the people are out and about in the sunshine, smiling at you, letting you play, for a few moments, with their children without acting nervous or suspicious, putting food into your hands and mouth as you literally pass them on the sidewalk. Instead of just rushing past, wrapped up tight in coats and under umbrellas, doling out cold stares. Yes, sir. Bring on the spring.