The week of saying goodbyes. There were too many to say!!
Sunday the 19th started the week. Because a ton of people would be traveling during the Chuseok holiday, they did the customary sending-off then. Bill and Dave said some nice things and they gave me a framed Psalm 121:1-2 in Korean and English. Many people wrote messages on the back. I gave a short speech which I managed to stay composed for.
At Shinbok there were 15 kids, so it was pretty chaotic. Octavia gave me a gift certificate to Lotte. After the kids left, Octavia, John, and the other guy stayed and talked for an hour. I followed the conversation decently, I guess, though couldn't add to it.
I went home for a short time before meeting people at Pizza Hut for my official goodbye party. A total of 11 people were there. It was loads of fun and we eventually got kicked out for being too loud. Oops. Miran, Danica, and Moses had to leave then; the rest of us stopped in a store with a major sale and then went to a coffee shop.
More fun there, a lot of it at Ryan's expense. He was the first to order, so everyone was still at the counter when he got his coffee. There was a container of red and blue packets of (presumably) sugar on the counter. He opened a red packet of white powdery stuff and put it in his coffee. Shelly very believably and with a perfectly straight face asked him, "Why did you put salt in your coffee?" Ryan looked at her to see if she was serious, then turned to Dave and asked, "What's in the red packets?" Dave (who acted as if he hadn't been listening) replied, "The red packets are salt and the blue ones are sugar. Why?" With an exasperated voice, Ryan answered, "Because I just put salt in my coffee! Can you ask [the employee] for a spoon so I can get it out?" Dave asked for the spoon and handed it to Ryan, who dipped all of the whipped cream off of the top of the coffee. At that point Shelly admitted that it wasn't salt, and I asked Ryan why would a coffee shop have salt! For the next 1~2 hours Shelly and Dave must have worked about 10~15 "salty" jokes into the conversation. Poor Ryan!
Saying goodbye once again—hard! Dave, Katie, Shelly, and Kendall—such a good part of my time here. Then I stood outside talking with Ian and Jodie for practically another hour. At one point the owner came outside to say hello to Ian and expressed some concern about how his business is going. It's been open for 5 months but being near the university, there are tons of other coffee shops around. We made some suggestions on how to get more people to buy from him. It was great standing around brainstorming how to make his business more profitable. What American business owner would listen to youngsters' advice?
Tuesday the adult class took me out to lunch at a traditional place in downtown. The atmosphere was great; the food was strange. There were 20~30 side dishes so although I didn't like any of them very much I was able to sample enough to get full. One dish looked like seasoned green beans. I took one, put it in my mouth and started chewing—oops—green pepper, and an especially potent one—I almost died coughing. The day was good, but I wasn't sure how to tell the kids I was leaving and what special thing to do for them.
Miro's 4 PM class that has been one of the most challenging asked me if I was leaving Korea to go to Iraq and fight. Certainly not! They reminded me that my name was "E.T." and acted as if they were glad to be rid of me. Well, I was somewhat glad to be rid of them, so if the feeling is mutual, fine! I asked them what they would do for the Chuseok holiday and one of the boys told me that he would bow and get money. Another kid proclaimed, "Babo! That's New Year's Day, not Chuseok!" First kid: "Oh yeah!"
In Mona's 5 PM class (long one of my favorites) I bought them snacks, since Friday would be speaking tests. We talked a lot, studied a little. Sure we didn't quite finish the book, but I would rather enjoy my last time with them than rush through the last chapter (which they didn't need for the test).
Thursday and Friday I brought out the camera for a few pictures—Miro's 3 PM class with Ally, Jenny, Cindy, and Ju-young; Mona's 3 and 5 PM classes.
The last adult class was awkward, as none of us knew exactly how to say goodbye. I gave them my email and mailing address, then Jennifer asked for my phone number. I hesitated, not sure of why she wanted it. After making sure she realized the time difference, I gave it to her.
Tomas asked if I liked his card, and told me that Mona had helped him. Then he said "Don't forget Tomas! Don't forget Korea! Don't forget Korea talking!" I explained that I don't have anyway to practice Korean with at home, so I'm sure to forget some of it.
On Friday from 5~7 it was a little insane with fitting in some speaking tests I didn't finish on Thursday plus doing Friday's tests. At 5 the kids knew the material so well that I was able to get through all of them and still have time for pictures and a tiny bit of talking. The girls all gave me gifts—Luby gave me coasters she had made herself from traditional Korean paper—very nice, along with a sweet letter; Laura and Sally also gave me wonderful letters and candy; Lily (after asking me on a couple of different days what my favorite Lotteria food was) brought me a shrimp burger set and insisted that I drink the cola while giving them their test because otherwise the ice would melt and it would be disgusting.
In the 8:30 class after the speaking test I told them goodbye, made sure they knew my email address and asked them to email from time to time to tell me what they were up to. They seemed pleased that I was interested in them.
Despite all the tests, I only had to stay 10 minutes later than normal to finish everything. I had started the evaluations about 10 days before, and flew through grading the writing tests. I did the last of my computer work, got rid of a few last things off my desk, and was struck by the sudden thought that I'm now unemployed!
Miro said a nice goodbye—after all, I was her main co-teacher. Lisa nearly started crying, which nearly got me going. Jane translated for her. It's weird—we haven't been able to talk very much because of the language barrier, yet I like her better than some of the teachers. We always greet each other, do a little simple conversation, and show concern for each other. She's often the only one there when I come in for adult classes, and I think we have a mutual respect for the work that the other does. Julia (the secretary when I came) rarely did any work—she preferred to gossip all day long. She made no effort to speak with me—at all.
The next secretary was tons better, but, and perhaps it was only because of personal problems, she often seemed unorganized and distracted. Lisa does a good job yet still manages to be friendly to the students and teachers.
Mr. Kim gave all the teachers Chuseok gifts—a huge box of shampoo, soaps, toothpastes, etc. and he gave me a going-away present of pottery. I gave both of them away—too big and heavy to carry home. I thanked Mr. Kim for my time at his school, saying I'd enjoyed it and learned a lot. As I left he was on the phone, but I bowed to him and he, although seated, gave me a low goodbye bow.
Jane offered to drive me home, since she was meeting her friend in Mugeo-dong. Joelle was going to go along with us, too, but after waiting in Jane's car for awhile Joelle text messaged Jane that she had to stay and talk with Mr. Kim, so we were to go on without her. So no goodbye to Joelle—too bad, I'll forever regret it….yeah right! I can't even begin to pretend about that!
I stayed up pretty late writing thank-you and I'll miss you notes to some of the students, then did some packing. It must have been around 2 AM when I went to sleep, then got up at 8 AM to meet Octavia to go to Busan. I haven't gotten back to a normal sleep schedule since then.
Saturday Octavia drove John and me to the Nampo-dong area. I expected her to do what she's done in the past and just drive to Nopo-dong and take the subway from there, but later I understood why she drove all the way to Nampo-dong.
We did some shopping Korean-style. In the past I'd only visited the outdoor markets or the 1st-floor shops. I had no idea there was a maze of shops on the second floor! Up a steep staircase and down narrow halls, hoping the building had been properly constructed. Open rafters above, uneven flooring below. Steel walkways from one building to the next. Not a place to be if a fire broke out!
We had a quick lunch at the street-side vendors. I never eat on the street by myself, but I figure that with a Korean it's safe—they know what to look for as far as cleanliness and the type of food that's safe to eat even when it's been sitting out all day. We had an appetizer of dukbokki, and then had some noodle-ly dish at another vendor. Slurp, slurp, slurp, seated on low stools surrounding the woman who dished out the food for us. People scurrying past, an old man shouting at people to buy his fruit and/or get out of his way. Finding a hair in the noodles—yuck, but get it out and continue eating—can't get behind in this race. No talking at all during the 10-minute-or-less meal. We then walked to the area I was more familiar with and into an older (for Busan) hotel to get coffee. We sat for over an hour and talked as we rested. Then Octavia and I headed to her friend's store while John returned to Ulsan via the subway and bus to help his mother get ready for Chuseok. Shopping with them was OK, but I felt like a child shopping under mom's watchful eye, as if my purchases were being evaluated as to their practical-ness or value.
Around 4 PM we met Octavia's friends. One was the same one from the Haeundae Beach day who brought her daughter and niece and we went to the Pet Café, etc. Today it was only adults. Three, then later four Korean women in their late 40s or early 50s chattering up a storm and me. I understood very little, as they were talking so fast. The fatigue that suddenly hit me contributed as well. On the way to the big bridge we got in a traffic jam and I fell asleep for a bit, but the nap didn't help at all.
We went to a raw fish restaurant. I didn't like it very much. Perhaps it was because it was only 6 PM and my stomach was still digesting the half-chewed noodles from our 1 PM lunch. The actual raw fish was good, but the side dishes weren't appetizing. The thing that really turned my stomach was the whatever-it-was that was still moving
. I tried one because they urged me to, but didn't eat much after that. Memories of the last time I had raw fish with Octavia and spent the next 12 hours puking went through my mind—the last thing I needed was to be sick when I should be packing or too weak to make the long trip home. My stomach felt weird for the rest of the night but no further problems. The bridge was really nice—huge and lit up with green and blue lights. Gwangali or something like that, built before the 2002 World Cup. Driving around, a bakery, another coffee shop, and finally arriving home after 11 PM and going almost immediately to bed. That meant I was fully awake by 8 AM Sunday morning.
I did a ton of cleaning and packing. I made a new stack of things to take to church with me. Mostly a few canned goods and the Chuseok gift from Mr. Kim. I found that most of my stash of medicine has expired or is close to it, so that takes care of not having to pack that! Sunday mornings are usually quiet, but this week it was like a ghost town. I wasn't looking forward to more goodbyes. There were only about 20~25 people there, with so many people traveling abroad. Roger gave a sermon—he was dressed up and was quite serious, in contrast to his normally joking personality. At the end Pastor Cho did some announcements, including the September birthdays yet to come, and his was one of them so David called out, "Happy Birthday!" and Pastor Cho joked, "Where's my gift?" David suggested giving him the gift set and I said sure, but I wasn't going to do it. So David jumped up and ran it up to the front, to a very embarrassed Pastor Cho!
I was hoping to see Mrs. Yoon, but she may be traveling. We said goodbye last month, but with the expectation that we'd see each other again at church. Oh well, it didn't work out.
At Shinbok there was a small crowd. We didn't study, but the 4 girls (the 2 boys disappeared early on) sat and asked me a lot of questions (with help from John). I didn't realize that two of the girls (the talkative elementary school one with the really positive attitude and her older sister who is constantly whining) were the pastor's children. The younger one gave me a gift, so afterwards Octavia took me to their mother so I could thank her. The family actually lives in the church. I'd never met the pastor before. He took Octavia and me into this study, where we chatted a tiny bit with Octavia as translator as needed and then he prayed for me, thanking God for the work I'd done there and asking blessings for my future. He talked entirely too fast for me to understand, but Octavia told me later. At the time, though, it was one of the "language doesn't really matter" experiences because I could hear the passion with which he prayed and feel the power of his words.
As she drove me home I wondered if Octavia was going to cry—her eyes were certainly damp. Again, it was awkward because we didn't know when we would meet again.
I walked down to the market to buy another big trash bag, and then wandered around the neighborhood. The last few days I've been more observant about the differences. It's almost as if since I'll soon be home, that I'm seeing things with the newcomer's eyes once more. People out working, kids perfectly safe out playing by themselves, grandmothers squatting and sorting through the trash.
Jodie called to ask if we could meet later; I agreed and then lay down for a short nap. After I'd been up for a bit Sandra called to ask if she and Lee could come by. Mr. Kim had told them they could take whatever they wanted from the apartment after I was gone, so she wanted to make sure they could find it. They came in and visited for 20 minutes or so, and I gave them the pottery set, the bread from Octavia, and the thank you notes to deliver to the kids. Sandra again said how she'd miss working with me, and I said I felt the same. Another goodbye.
Jodie came around 8:00, and stayed until after midnight. Go away! She's a little strange, but I was so tired. And hungry, actually. I ate lunch at around 2 PM at Shinbok, and then Sandra came, then I kept expecting Jodie to come, so I had put off eating dinner. I finally had yoghurt and a sandwich at around 12:30. Jodie took quite a few things with her; I felt good that some things would get some more use out of them.
That brings me to the last day of Korea. More packing, more cleaning. I took the remaining unwanted clothes outside to find the donation box gone, so I left the clothes where the box used to be in the hopes that an ajumma will find it and do something useful with the clothes. I went down the Lotte Department Store to spend the gift certificate. At first I spent 38,000 won, thinking (as Octavia had told me) that they'd give me cash back. Well, they did—12,000 won, and a 50,000 won gift certificate. Ugh, more shopping! The actual department store part wasn't too crowded, but the discount store was. I finally found some more stuff to buy, but ended up spending the entire thing plus 1,000 won.
Back to the apartment, again being extra-observant on the bus ride and walk home. Another nap at home, more cleaning, more packing, and pleasantly surprised to find that everything seems to fit (tomorrow morning will be the final test!). I hope neither of the bags is too heavy! I'm also hoping there won't be a problem with the carry-ons. I have my computer bag, a purse, and a shopping bag with the framed verse from Simin (with the frame and glass cover, I didn't trust it to be checked, even if I sandwiched it between clothes). If need be I can stick my purse in the shopping bag to say that I only have 2 bags to carry on, right?
Has it really sunk in that I'm leaving? The apartment is looking pretty bare, I'm excited to be going home, yet I feel as if my goodbyes were insufficient. A week of saying goodbye somehow doesn't seem enough for a place that's been my home for over 2 years. I guess it's the whole leaving-and-probably-never-coming-back thing. Now that I'm leaving, I feel as if I know Korea so well. In some ways, I think I know it better than my own country and culture. Reverse culture shock—how bad will it be?