It is going to be boiling in August. It’s going to be sick. Long ago I confined my warm workwear to a dark corner of my wardrobe and already I’m starting to get jealous of the students who dress in shorts and sleeveless tops for school. I’ve been to hot places before but none that have ever required me to stand up and do stuff for most of the day; this morning it took me until lunchtime when I returned to my desk in front of an open window to stop sweating. Luckily children are pretty smelly themselves, so as long as I can conceal any damp sweat patches that materialise I shouldn’t get ruthlessly bullied by them – it’s just all my co-workers I’ll have to avoid for the next 3 months.
Meanwhile, at the weekends when I’m able to wear slightly airier clothing we’ve been managing to enjoy the sunshine by spending the last couple at the beach in Busan. Last weekend Elizabeth and I were sitting on a bedsheet on the sand playing cards and eating grapes we were accosted by a group of probably 25 middle-aged Koreans. They conducted the most efficient whirlwind of a picnic I’ve ever seen: in literally 10 minutes they all arrived, unpacked dozens of trays of food, summoned us over to forcefeed roe and soju to us (laterally for photographs in a variety of poses), took some snaps of each other rolling around in the sand, packed up and then left. This generosity and conviviality shown to foreigners is characteristic of groups of picnicking locals and one of my favourite things about living here.
It doesn’t seem too long ago when the dry, biting winter here threatened to cut into any enjoyment of time spent outside but it’s amazing the difference a few short weeks can make – and they have been very short, whizzing by now. It’s almost as though I wake up on Monday mornings, robotic and bleary-eyed, and then the next time I take a minute to reflect it’s Thursday. Incredibly, I occasionally feel a bit panicky that I won’t have time before I leave Korea to eat my lifetime’s fill of kimchi. This particular week has whizzed by with a very, very polite Korean man lurking behind me for many of my lessons, whispering apologies in my ear. Every morning he knocks the softest of knocks on the English office door before it opens to reveal legs and the hairy crown of a head, and as they retreat I realise it’s a human form bent double, muttering honorific salutations. This is how this man greets his co-workers, the principal, the dinner ladies, the students – if he’s married I bet this is how he greets his wife, children and pet pink chihuahua too. He looks to me in lessons for permission to speak, to press play on interactive English CD ROMs and to pick his nose too. One co-teacher has been absent from work all week and this is the guy they found to replace him – as if to say “look Joe, you’ve been getting complacent. You appear to be adapting too well and too quickly to the quirks of Korea, here’s a little something to throw you off a bit. Good luck”. Well Korea, you’ll have to do better than that.