Having the Perfect Halloween in Korea

I gotta say, I’m really not that big up on Halloween. I’m way too lazy and cheap to buy a full blown costume just for that one day, all with the expectation that I’d think up something to top myself the next year. As such, I usually use Halloween to wear whatever I wanted in the bizarre, topsy-turvy way I felt like… without having to explain myself. That aside…

 photo ACE0C591C774ACFCAF2CB9AC_zpsb5c81715.jpg(고양이과 꼬리)

I had a perfect Halloween in Korea. For once, I felt like I had a cultural imperative to dress up for my students, to share with them the joy of dressing up and asking for candy on this random day in autumn.


My friends and I gathered on Sunday to try the costume shop down in Bangeojin (the foreigner heavy part of town) but we found it largely cleaned out of ready-made costumes for the taking. (At least, ones that would be school-approved.)

And then on Wednesday night, my friends said I should go as a cat. “You know, you’re Cat Teacher, it’s right there,” they said. To which I said, “but you said it would be too obvious!” Anyway, I ran down to the costume shop to pick up one of those packets with the cat ears, tail, and (for some reason) a tie and planned to wear it Friday morning.

I started my Friday by going for a swim. I woke up with my shoulder aching after straining it. It was incredibly painful to move. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to do my 250 meter goal, but decided that I could at least walk/run laps in the pool. So I walked the 40 minutes to the community center. Someone had told me that the pool would be vacant at 7 in the morning, but they were wrong: there was a group of 아줌마s (older ladies) exercising. Not my ideal situation, but there was enough room and they were fun to watch and listen to. I took it easy. Actually, I thought I wouldn’t make it the full 250 meters. I deliberately took myself down to zero before doing the last 6 laps. I’m not even sure what stroke let me finish, probably freestyle.

I started swimming this past week. I finally bit the bullet and found out where the pool was and everything. It makes me feel so alive in the best way possible. I find it a powerful way to connect to the breath that makes all of us.

I hustled home in the rain then got ready for school by packing my makeup, costume and all that candy. I wore the outfit I bought in Japan that screamed Elementary School Teacher and drew my whiskers on in the school bathroom. I just followed the lines of my cheekbones.

The costume was a hit. The students were surprised at my face though they quickly figured out that it was Halloween and that I was a cat. They said I was very cute. One (equally adorable) child latched on to my waist and followed me around the classroom saying, “귀여워, 귀여워” “Cute, cute” she said. They were fascinated by the cat tail, which I wasn’t sure what to do with but had shoved into a back pocket. That would look convincing, right? I had a few little girls trail me while holding it though nobody tried to steal it. Needless to say, I learned the word for “tail” quickly. (꼬리 or kkori.) The students would murmur about it when they saw it.

Friday mornings mean teaching the sixth graders who I find notoriously finicky. It’s been hard to guess what would light them up. In fact, the first class found the song we were learning incredibly difficult (poor things) and were reluctant to play the game. They enjoyed the candy of course. Surprisingly, my third class loved the song. In fact, one of the kids already knew it and I think that helped the kids get into it as well. They asked me to play it several times so they could sing along.

They also enjoyed the Adjectives Olympics game. One team was scared because they thought their English was weak but the game was built for randomness so that it didn’t matter. Everyone still had to make sentences but anyone could win candy. I remember in one class, the team sent this large hulking guy who would win most any category of comparatives. But his category turned out to be “who is older?” and all the kids laughed because it didn’t involve feeling physically inferior. I was glad to see my 6th graders enjoy something for once, when most of the time I’m never very sure with them.

Then I was mobbed, after classes and at lunch, with choruses of “Trick-or-Treat!” since I had told students that they simply needed to say it for me to give them candy. I passed out Warheads all over the place and was insanely curious to see a student’s face ingest it. According to a friend of mine, it was beyond hilarious and the kids always came back asking for more.

I would soon know. In the after school English program, we had the first graders and second graders come in for their class first. Before the festivities started, I gave them Warheads and let them play with the bird whistle I bought in Gyeongju. They had fun with that. Some students didn’t even flinch at the taste of the candy and others clutched their heads like their brains were breaking.

I was therefore ready for the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders later that day. I would teach them the phrase, “Trick or Treat” if they didn’t know it already then insist that they eat it in front of me. I even took some people’s candy back when they didn’t agree to my request. Most were happy to oblige me with their hilarious faces; others even followed me to warn others of the sourness or to enjoy (just as much as me) the faces of others. Quite a number badgered me for more.

My afternoon classes were a bit of a mess. By which I mean, there was paper everywhere. We made witches’ hats and to my horror, I learned that all the kids wanted black ones. We had planned for half black and half blue but ended up using up all the black first. I was also very tentative with my explanation so I actually ended up doing most of the work for students. It was a fairly relentless line of “Teacher! Teacher!” there for awhile. But I think the kids, on the whole, liked the hats, enjoyed the guessing game, and loved the candy. They enjoyed Halloween and so did I.

 photo B9C8B140C758BAA8C790_zpsa64dcda0.jpg

(멋진 마법사의 모자!)

Actually, I think the kids were all the difference in my amazing Halloween. Past Halloweens have just been me and other adults, but the kids! Getting to share this lovely little holiday with them made it very special.

I planned a quiet evening for myself since I thought I would have to teach classes the next day (Saturday). A friend of mine called to say that I didn’t. A cherry on this sundae of perfection. I went on a friend date feeling relaxed, eating butter chicken curry and enjoying conversation with my tall, South African lady friend. At some point, I told her I was going to be married. I just sort of knew. Mind, I haven’t met the person, have no idea when or where or any such specifics. I just knew, with a quiet certainty, that I would be married. It was a peaceful thought after giving myself such a rough time over being single.

It was a perfect ending to a rough week. Through it all, I could feel how much the people around me loved me in all their strange, unusual, beautiful ways. And that gives me the courage to woo and love the one person I continue to struggle mightily with: myself.

I am excited for what the future has in store.

Thank you to all my friends, especially to Marty who helped me get the candy.

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