As I advertised on my Facebook, I’m about fed up with Facebook, so I’m switching over to this blog. This will now be the place where I post the occasional weird thought or nugget-sized update on what’s been happening to me recently. But I’m still going to mainly be doing full-size, non-half-baked blogs that I take some time over instead of just dashing out. Unfortunately, right now I’m not sure I have the proper time or energy to make this blog optimal. I’ve actually just pulled my first all-nighter since college. It’ll hit me sometime tomorrow. For now I’m still doing okay, but feeling a bit drunk and slug-fingered.
I had an amazing last day. It seemed like Sachangni was trying to cram all the cool stuff it could fit into one single day, or at least it did when I wasn’t in school. (If you’ve been reading my Facebook, you might notice I’m repeating myself. That’s so I can take down the version of this that’s on Facebook.) I taught my four classes today almost exactly as I would on any other day, except that five minutes were set aside at the end for the students and me to say goodbye to each other. There was a bit of an exception where my co-teacher somehow organized for all the teachers to meet in the conference room between second and third bell in a clearly hastily-arranged farewell ceremony. The principal stood up and said a few words (which I mostly didn’t understand), and Amanda and I both said what a good year we’d had, and that was it. Took maybe seven minutes, and most of that was spent waiting for everyone to arrive.
They really don’t have the process for sending people off organized well at all, and as a result they were still making frantic phone calls to companies that wanted me to pay one last bill, and so I had to pay my electric and gas bill in cash, and I had to go down to pay my last internet bill at the ATM, which is a thing you can do here. But as I was going down, four little boys, all from Amanda’s classes, maybe third graders, fell in line with me and started chatting. They’re actually fairly good at getting across messages with what little vocabulary they’ve been taught so far. But what was far more impressive was when one boy burst into song with an English rendition of “You Are the Music in Me” from High School Musical (I didn’t know what it was from since I’ve never watched it, but the boy named the title for me). He had it memorized the best of all of them, and I don’t know how long it took him, but the other ones had pretty decent-sized snippets of it memorized too. I was pretty impressed, and I made sure they knew. (신기하다! Shingihada!—”Amazing!”)
And on the way back uphill from the ATM, I got proselytized, just to remind me that the place I’m leaving is the Bible belt of Korea. A woman who looked like she’d just witnessed a fatal multiple-car pile-up insistently handed me an English-language religious tract (“Whose Side Are You On?”) and asked me in Korean if I believed in Jesus. It was a surreal experience. It seemed like she expected me to burst into hellfire right there and then if I gave the wrong answer.
I spent the afternoon with all the folks who were left, which was everyone except Amanda and Ben: Amanda left early in the afternoon, and Ben’s been gone for a couple weeks in the Philippines, getting married to a Filipina lady and having a honeymoon. We just chatted, mainly, about nothing, and about getting ready to leave, and about how we’ll try to keep in touch, and about what we’re going to do next and how fun it’s going to be. I will actually see Sean and Natalie (Natalie’s back, by the way) again, when I go to England. And Deanna too, since she’s taking my filled-up journals home with her so I don’t have to trust the postal system. Everyone else, I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.
While Russell and Deanna were busy cleaning Russell’s apartment, Sean and Natalie dropped by for a final goodbye, and then left. They’re off to southeast Asia, to see all the cool stuff I saw in January. They’ll have fun. Then I went up and made an omelet, but of course I had to go into town for dessert—my last waffle from the waffle guy. Waffles aren’t a breakfast food here, and when you think about it, it’s kind of absurd that anyone treats them as such. They’re basically made of sugar, aren’t they, with a bit of batter to bind them into a more porous form? As a dessert, though, they’re amazing, especially since the standard way of serving them is with jam and whipped cream. I talked with the waffle man about shipping. He was a ship engineer a while back, and went all over the world working for shipbuilders. Now he sells waffles in the backwoods of Gangwon-do. Go figure.
I needed a bit more dinner too, though, so I got an “onion toast” from Paris Baguette, and in so doing stopped into a Paris Baguette for the last time. I ate it in front of GS25, the convenience store. Convenience stores here have plastic tables and chairs out front so people can drink their soju at those comfortably instead of somewhere else stumbling around and being nuisances. I assume that’s why. It’s sort of a much cheesier version of Italian sidewalk cafes. As I was eating, a lady came up to me and seemed just amazed that I was having a sandwich dinner there, alone in front of GS25. We got to talking. She was tremendously friendly, and I eventually remembered that I’d met her at the soldiers’ temple on Buddha’s Birthday back in May. We got really into talking, in fact. She told me her time learning English had been miserable (and ineffective, too—we were talking mostly in Korean, but sometimes she would switch to English to try to make something clearer for me, and it often ended up very garbled, and she knew it wasn’t right, but she was valiantly trying, as was I really), but she knew it didn’t have to be miserable, that it was so only because the Korean education philosophy is all textbooks and memorizing and writing practice, and no life. So then we got to talking about the difference between that and the USA, and I had to come up with all sorts of opinions that I hadn’t thought of before, and make comparisons I hadn’t made, and she got me thinking.
Meanwhile, we were joined by a shifting cast of extras, including the woman’s sons (third and fifth grade; they go to Ben’s school), some older friends of theirs, a very old man who spoke with a slur that I couldn’t pick two words out of, a little boy passing by on a bike who scratched his handlebar against a classy car next to us, and a policeman with a clipboard who came by later on to ask questions about the boy. She told me she tries to raise her two sons with a more free-thinking philosophy, because she can’t stand the Korean system, and the way it kills creativity and communication. Most parents send their kids to 학원 hagwons, which are basically rooms where they do extra studying outside of school. I finally started understanding them a little more when she explained that the hagwons are there to fill a gap in the kids’ educations that’s left there by teachers who don’t communicate with their students, just command them and lecture at them. At a hagwon the kids get something closer to one-on-one teaching, but they’re pricey places, and why pay for that if you can give the same thing to your kid yourself? That’s her philosophy, and she’s been putting it into practice, but it’s hard, because she’s going against a very ground-in social norm. She has a lot of anxiety about it and just wants to raise her kids right.
It was fascinating, sociologically or anthropologically. I was finally getting an insider’s insight on Korea… on my very last day. Why didn’t I start hanging out in front of GS25 sooner?! I’ll keep that in mind when I’m traveling: go where the people are, and interesting conversations will happen. If we’d met and started talking sooner, Eun-mi (that’s her name; her English name is Amy) could have been terrific friends, I think. And she could’ve told me about the Chinese chess (xiangqi) lessons that they offer at the Culture Center in town. If I ever come back to Korea, I know the sorts of things to check out. But as it is, I’m off tomorrow, and I just have to rue that I never did that. Oh well. What’s past is past.
With that done, it was time for me to spend the night researching things that pertain to my trip, estimating the costs so I can take that much money out, and other stuff. Soon it’ll be time to Skype with folks back home for the last time. I suppose I’d better brush my teeth and have something highly caffeinated.