The Weekend Before Christmas in Korea

I blinked and Christmas is a mere handful of days away. Korea isn’t very serious about Christmas so we’ll be hard at work all the way up to the day before and then we’ll have the day (but no more than a day) off.

In the meantime, my schedule is filling up to bursting.

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Friday, December 19: The Last Day of Afternoon Classes Ever

I always feel stretched to my limits in afternoon classes. I’ve had a full day of work and I’m still working. I’m exhausted and at the edge of my being, I feel like the students are too. The Stanford class (second to the highest level) is rowdy with far too many kids, all with far too much energy that has no exit.

We’re supposed to be teaching about Christmas and I run into the class completely unsure of what I’m supposed to do. I have a basket full of crafts that I half know how to do. I start with the one I think is easiest and discover that the glue gun is complicated. The latecomers start dribbling in and have to be brought up to scratch.

I start to throw kids at the various tasks. I get two kids to cut Christmas cards. I hand Christmas tree sections to another group of students who manage to figure out how all the pieces fit and how the lights wind around it. I conduct an impromptu spelling bee so that the kids can choose what colored papers they want to use. And then I teach, in a blind following the blind fashion, the students how to make paper snowflakes.

This is rather disastrous but fun in a chicken-lost-their-head sort of way. Any possibility of teaching the students “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” goes out the window as I start glue-gunning pipe cleaner Christmas trees to the Christmas card paper in earnest. I sing too and the kids try to get me to stop but it’s the only thing keeping me sane. They are busy assembling their paper snowflakes. A few can’t figure out how the six pieces of paper come together exactly; neither can I so the students go home with snowflakes with a joint out of place and embarrassed looks as I attempt to hug each student goodbye. It is the last day and I’ll never see the majority of them ever again.

The second class goes a bit better. There are fewer students and I’ve figured out the snowflake craft. It’s over before I even realize it. There are no pictures.

Saturday, December 20: Orphanage Christmas Party

I sit on Google Hangout with some of my best friends from America and open Christmas presents. They’ve sent me a lovely care package all decked out in Christmas wrapping paper. I am so excited to eat everything, but I’ve gotta go.

I go to pick up a friend’s camera from her apartment and then go to the river where a bus takes a pile of us foreigners to the orphanage in Eonyang. Eonyang is far. It takes perhaps half an hour. I catch up with an old friend while eating 귤/tangerines on the bus.

At the orphanage, the kids are sweet and relaxed around us foreigners. I chit-chat with a few of them in Korean, telling them that my name is 고양이 (Cat in Korean) and they don’t believe me but seem charmed. Or, at least, absolutely delighted to be decorating a donut. One kid takes the Fruit Loops wreath very seriously. Another enlists me into helping sweep trash.

Everyone files into the auditorium where we eat cookies and drink hot chocolate. The kids do a few performances. As I was listening to the choir sing, one of the little boys asks me for my cocoa. He and his friend pass it back and forth between them. I worry that they’ll spill it all over themselves but it never happens. They finish it and I go back to my seat.

A few minutes later, I’m followed by one of the little boys. He crawls into my lap and sits there half asleep while waiting for Santa to call his name. When he gets his present from Santa, all traces of fatigue disappear. He is enchanted with the bubble blower and covers us all in soap water. He and his friend are completely happy though, and I suppose that’s what matters.

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(Photo credit: Frances)

Saturday, December 20: House Warming

I make my way to my friend’s house in Eonyang. He’s starting a new job and the new job comes with a swanky three room apartment in the middle of nowhere. He gives us the tour and we marvel at all his Star War models and his oven.

We slap dinner together: pasta with cream sauce, vegetables and beef. It’s delicious. We drink the wine I’d won at a party ages ago because this was the event I had the wine for.

We’re joined shortly by my friend’s new boss and his family. His family includes a curious looking two year old with huge eyes. She’s shy but gives us all strawberries. Later, she would hog all the candy. And then my friends would make fun of me for literally stealing candy from a baby. But I had to do it.

Sunday, December 21: Last Korean Class

I usually walk to my Korean class but today I had to take the bus. I was running so late and I was feeling a little stressed with the weight of what had to be done. But all would be done in it’s own time.

I sat down, for the last time, with my friends as we translated a story about a mother frog and her frog son who always did the opposite of what she told him to. She tells him to stay away from the forest with the snake in it and of course he goes. She follows and is bitten by the snake. As she’s dying, she worries that he won’t bury her on the mountain like she wants. So she asks to be buried next to the river. But now the son has decided to honor his mother. He buries her next to the river and every time it rains, he runs to the grave and cries with worry that she’ll be washed away.

I think this is how most fairy tales are supposed to go and I ponder when it was that we as a society decided to clean it all up and give ourselves happy endings instead.

We do some mental gymnastics over complex grammatical forms and then I’m out the door.

Sunday, December 21: Theater Practice

We finish our run through of our play that we’re performing at the end of January. (We reschedule it for the beginning of February over the course of the practice.) We’re silly and I put in the song for Snow White because I’ll take any opportunity to sing. I laugh myself until I’m crying over the crab people.

Sunday, December 21: Christmas caroling in Seongnamdong

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(Photo credit: Frances)

I came up with the idea to do some Christmas caroling around the city way back in November and for a few weeks there, I merely itched to finally get out there and start singing. And now the merry season is upon us.

We meet at the Cube in the freezing cold and no one’s there. Just the three of us, waiting for others to show up. The only ones who do are the core of people who got together in the first place and despite all the fuzz in my brain about what a let down that is, we keep going. We want to create music and the music has to come out.

We walk around Seongnamdong trying to find a place to set up. How about next to the Christmas tree? Nope, they already have musicians. How about next to these stores? Nope, there’s too much ambient noise. We stuff our faces full of free 팥죽 (red bean soup) and keep going.

We settle next to a bank on a street with thin traffic. We spend thirty minutes going through our set list of music, enjoying ourselves thoroughly. A few passers by stop to watch us. I stop being able to feel my toes.

Later, we decamp to Toolbox and eat amazing burgers. I can feel my toes again.

Monday, December 22: Christmas caroling in Mugeodong

The Christmas carolers are invited to perform at a charity event for children. It is way across town.

I am late, arriving just in time to see my group performing without me. The Internet has thrown up a singer I had seen post before but never met and he holds down the fort like a boss. The brilliant winds hold steady as usual, bold and unapologetic. It goes well even when I’m left out.

Later, I have a conversation with the guy who invited us to perform. He thanked me for trying to organize people. He said it gets better every year. I am so glad I came.

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