Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Drab Text books

I wrote the first little story for the first lesson in the seventh grade text book yesterday. There wasn't much too it. Though I long to write deep thematic, fantastic epics, I've come to grips with writing watered down stories for ESL students. And even though my editors don't have a lick of imagination, I try to drop subtle pictures in that I hope the students will pick up on and perhaps, peek their interest in dreaming.

The story I wrote and sent away yesterday was less than three hundred words. A girl goes on a field trip with her class to the Natural History Museum and goes floor to floor visiting the different exhibits. The top floor, the fifth floor, was the MAN EXHIBIT. The girl sees displays of people playing chess, writing symphonies, constructing skyscrapers, and in the last exhibit, traveling to space.

I got the notes back from the editor today. She suggested changing that exhibit to show the history of man. "Maybe you could write about cavemen building fires and hunting with spears" she wrote.

No. No. No. Why should I change that? Why do educated people scoff at romantic portrayals of Man, replacing them with brutish cartoon characters?

I am seeing now that almost every shred of imagination is ringed out of educational material. They bore me to tears. I know that children respond when you ask them to open their minds. I have schools requesting that I teach their students. You think someone would ask me why my students don't fall asleep. Why my classes are fun. Why kids open up to me...

I am just tired of people unwilling to believe in magic--the nobility of Man. Children do, that is why we get along so well.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two Breakfasts

The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my email. Both accounts, then Facebook. I want to get email. I crave it. I love it when I do.

This morning, after checking my email and finding my inbox empty, I decided to clean and cook. It is the weekend. That is what I do on the weekend. While I'm doing it, I imagine how great it would be if I had someone else to do it for me. To sweep and mop the linoleum floors--to put my dirty laundry in the machine and then take it out again and hang it on the clothes rack to dry--to iron my work shirts--to cook my meals. I'm not sure if I need a wife or a maid. I might even settle for a robot.

The kitchen table was damp and spotless and the dishes drip dried in the dish rack when I sat down with a cup of coffee. I was full from the eggs and ham breakfast I had cooked for myself for breakfast. I put my feet up and tried to relax. I want to relax more than anything but I want it so bad I start to stress about it and in the end I can't. So relaxing has become mythical, like a promised land or better yet, a fairy land. I think just a little more cleaning, just a little more work, just one more week of thirteen hour days at the office, then I'll relax. Yeah. But the next day always brings more work. I wonder if that is what people really want when they talk about heaven, if some just give up on peace here on earth and look for it in the next life. In the next life we will relax.

My roommate woke up. I felt a bit bad about cleaning and cooking in the morning but it is eleven o'clock. Eleven o'clock! The phone rang. It was 11:03. "Hello Mah-tyew. I am Hae-seoung." That's right he was going to cook breakfast for us this morning at eleven o'clock. I wanted to stay home and relax with my coffee and the view out my window but he sounded so happy.

My roommate took off, right out the door, looking like he just woke up: his hair disheveled and a greasy glean to his skin. I tell him I'll catch up. I throw on some jeans and a button up dress shirt and roll up the sleeves, then ride the elevator down eleven floors. I step out into the day. The sun is shinning and the east wind feels like fall. There are children everywhere! They all giggle and say "Hello! How are you today!?" in English and then run away laughing when I say hello back.

Hae-seoung lives right across the street in a tall apartment building like mine. I can look right into his window at night when his lights are on. But with the elevators and walls and gates, it takes me about ten minutes to walk to his apartment building.

"Mah-tyew! Hello!"

I look up and Hae-seoung is hanging out of the twelfth story window waving.

I'm coming, I tell him.

I ride the elevator up. There are three big mirrors in the elevator-one on each wall. They are at eye level for Koreans but I can only see my reflection from the chest down--an infinite loop of my ever growing belly reflected back at me. I turn away and look up at the numbers change on the display as I go up and up. When the door opens, Hae-seoung jumps out and says, "Boo!" He is happy. He loves to eat.

We walk down the hall to his apartment and take off our shoes. His apartment is simple and clean: wooden floors, a sponge on the aluminum counter top, a low table in the corner with a ten year old TV on it, his laptop computer on the floor playing the best of classical music, and in the middle of the room--the breakfast table was set. Mushroom spaghetti took it's place of honor as the main course in the middle of the table and around it were three empty bowls for the spaghetti and three bowls, one for each of us, filled only half full of vegetable cream soup. There was also a board with nine fresh French rolls laid out in three rows of three. For silverware, he had put out two plastic forks for Paul and I, the Americans. How thoughtful!

He dished out our spaghetti and we ate and talked well past lunch time with the window open and the ocean sparkling not two blocks away. The sea breeze, mixed with the Mozart and the smell of mushrooms, was almost too much. Eating breakfast with those guys, even if we do speak in broken Korean and English--was relaxing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Airport Lounge

I'm waiting at the airport. It's a small rinky-dink airport. Looks more like a bowling alley than an airport. I decide to kill some time so I go to this greasy spoon cafe-bar type place. The bar tender is a real cute girl, maybe a little older than me. Kind of hippie like. Everyone is sweating a bit cause it is hot in the bar. I ask for change to play the arcade game they have there. I also order a coffee. She tells me the coffee is nine dollars. I ask who in their right mind would pay 9 dollars. She tells me she'll give it to me black for $8.50. I pass. This couple next to me is eating french toast. He has on glasses. Looks a bit like a cars salesman or lawyer from the 80's. His wife I can't make out. She is probably younger but she doesn't make much of an impression on me. We strike up a conversation about coffee. How expensive it is.

I am hungry. I really want some french toast. She tells me a joke but I don't get it. She tells me I wouldn't understand. I tell her she can't tell me a joke and then not explain it if I don't get it. The bar tender tells me I'd have to dance to understand. She tells me to stand up. She puts a quarter in the jukebox. We start dancing. It's kind of a fast dance. I still don't get the joke but the dancing is fun. A black girl cuts in and I dance this fast hot dance with a black girl. I thank her when it is over. She has a big white toothed smile. When it is over I go back to the bar and drink water while waiting for my plane to arrive.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


What a busy summer I have had. I took a college course. I wrote three children books. I created a summer program for our school. I traveled home to Seattle and then back to Korea again. Part of me loves the work. It makes me feel useful. After all what would I be doing if I wasn't working. But part of me is getting lost each day--the part of me that longs for coffee on the porch with friends; who writes silly poems about the woods in my journal; that introspective piece of me that feels connected to God and nature--so, this is what being an adult is all about. I feel a bit thin, almost like a wraith sometimes and that can't be good. But then something small reminds me again how wonderful life is and that I am connected to all of it. I ran into two old students today at different times. They both said the same thing--"Oooh! Hello Maht-yu." That made my day.

It is nearly impossible to explain my life in Korea to people back home. Living in Asia, teaching, living with Korean room mates is after all something I never dreamt I would do and even while I do it, it feels both familiar and strange at the same time.

I was just up on the roof having a cigarette before bed. I opened the door to the roof and it was pitch black. I stumbled over a vent as I walked out to the edge to look down on the city at night. After my smoke I looked around at the roof top and realized my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, that walking back to the door I was able to see the vent and go around it. My eyes readjusted to the light of my apartment when I came inside. Living in Korea for two years is kind of like that. I am adjusted to it. What seemed so alien at first is becoming common place. Now it is home that is strange.

Thing is I am always going back and fourth between light and dark, city to city, friends to friends. I guess that is life. But something in me is really longing to settle down. To stop moving, to be part of a more lasting community.

I am proud of my books I made this summer. Proud of graduating university, of coming to Korea by myself and being completely independent. I am amazed at how much I have been able to do by just saying yes and plugging along. But--I am looking forward to the next adventure to come my way. Settling down after all is probably the biggest adventure of all!