Mar 28, 2007


"Just smile," I think, pretending I know what the fuck is going on, when truly I have absolutely not the slightest vague notion. The Korean-language banter bats back and forth between the Principal of Jeongseon's 'Information High school' (where I'll teach Thursday mornings) and my guide at its naturally frantic pace. I find out later, they're discussing in detail whether I can sit at a desk in between classes or whether I would mind sitting on the couch in the woman teacher's lounge... it takes them over ten minutes to actually ask me.

During this interlude, a more-than common instance where I just have no sweet clue what's being said, my eyes drift to the wastebasket. It really belongs in a child's room - covered in what looks like Beatrix Potter illustration rip-offs - not here in the Principal's office. Big cursive letters on the lid read, "Little Bunny Juju." It's weird, another weird somehow and somehow-not remnant of a popular kid's song or show from western culture poorly translated to a household item. Wasn't it, "Little Bunny Frou Frou hopping through the forest, scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head..."? I should see if the kids [or the adults for that matter] know the song, or whether they actually have no idea what the wastebasket actually says and simply feel the decoration is acceptable [the latter].

I climbed the zig-zagging mountain trail behind my little apartment this morning to the peak of my wimp-sized back-yard mountain - a hump that's literally up and down. The Koreans don't really know the word 'apartment' (well at least not in this extremely rural, extremely isolated itty-bitty of a city that's nestled into a pimply-mountain cradle and wrapped by a pale river like silvery ribbon), they're more apt to refer to their places as 'rooms'. Stacked like bricks with windows, haphazardly jutting upward in most directions, that's what they are anyway, so they got it right. The trees resemble the firs you could find anywhere in New Brunswick or Ontario, and drop needles just like at home: in thick brown carpets that radiate warmth and the aroma of autumn no matter what season. A brown-caped bird with a sparrow-like length of tail followed from branch to branch as I panted my way up the steep craggy trail, tipping his head and looking at me quizzically out of one eye as though even he had never seen a foreign white girl around these parts before. "You're the first.. chirp chirp!" Or he made some 'tra la dee dee' sound; apparently he's a cousin to the chickadee. The town's an odd mix of ugly-beautiful. Gray crystal sky and ruddy mountains, garbage piled against dilapidated and swaying makeshift excuses for buildings, pretty faces and bright red sauces, neon crosses and the chanting of Buddhist prayers layered in guttural tones carried flat across the mountain walls and in through my window.

Right now it's warmer here than Toronto when I left, to the tune of about 10 or so plus degrees, but the breeze that blows through this valley is bringing the occasional chill and staving off t-shirt weather.

Last night I experienced my first electrical storm/downpour here (I'm told this weather must have come packed in my suitcase, since it's been dry as chalk for months). The yellow dust that blows across Korea, lifted hundreds of miles in red winds from China's Gobi Desert, turned the lightning vivid purple. 'Pong-ae' is my shoddy attempt at a near-phonetic translation of 'lightening' in Korean. It lit up like the background of a tacky 80's hair band t-shirt, in electric guitar-solo-worth blazes. I saw it touch down on the mountains across the valley. Every strike felt like a close call, even though I know those mountains are miles and miles away. It was a warm up for the monsoon season that's just around the corner. First purchase: an umbrella.

As a side note, the yellow dust is why most Koreans wear those unnerving hospital scrub-style face masks, not because they're scared of (or have got!) the bird flu or something. I want one with Hello Kitty on it.

My 'room':

notorious washroom-shower
the 'kitchen'
one direction
the other direction
mountain view

No comments: