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School, social arrangements and new books conspire together to make me busy these days. Last weekend I hiked, as I like to do. On Saturday with my lovely Busan gang I walked over mountains by the sea and we sat on the windy beach between peaks. Sunday a storm brewed. There was that petrichor smell in the air and thunder sounded. Drops already were falling but I needed to get out and so walked to my mountain path, expecting to get soaked in the downpour that threatened. I didn’t: the storm never quite came. I realised then that I miss rain – it feels months since it’s rained here. I miss the sound of rainfall at night. (And no, the irony of a British person missing rain is not lost on me.) The realisation got me to thinking, what else do I miss here? Standardly, friends and family form the biggest gap. I also miss good bread, big trees and  cats. I miss smoking a joint. I miss baking things. I miss casual, comprehensible stranger conversation – sometimes, anyway. I miss seeing illegal graffiti on forgotten walls, playing scrabble on grey afternoons and dancing to reggae on booming speakers.

So what do I appreciate here – particularly at the moment? Bathhouses, of course. Spa and noodle Tuesdays. Playing my curious role in a real school. Korean teenagers. The new game students have where they shout my name and hide behind a wall (I usually catch the top of their heads and watch the spot until they pop up again and giggle madly when they realise I’m waiting for them). Surprise holidays. My blissful ignorance of advertising. The lady at the bottom of my hill, who sells nothing but big bowls of strawberries, and always smiles. Gift giving, chopsticks and kimchi.

And, of course, the lampposts. This week they played Mozart, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, an old school country tune and some songs from Moulin Rouge. The volume fluctuates as I cycle past them, lowest at that mid point between two, and then louder again until the peaking few seconds I draw level with the post in front. In between tracks, a deep voice says “Tamzin Whelan, this is your life” while the camera zooms out to show the morning sun playing on the surface of the broad river.

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‘Oh yes’ says my co-teacher, mid-morning chat, ‘and the middle school principal wants to see you.’  My high school lives opposite this middle school and another high school.  It seems to be an amicable arrangement: although separate institutions, the respective chiefs meet prior to each school year and swop a few teachers in Pokémon-esque fashion.

However, I have never met the middle school principal before – even our principal, true to Confucian thinking, appears a rather godlike and elusive figure who dwells somewhere on the second floor, defended fiercely by administration staff. ‘Yikes’ I say, ‘Why?’

‘I don’t know’ Jeje tells me, ‘something about the training trip maybe.  You best just go and find out.’

So go I do, across the wide concrete playing ground, mentally rehearsing a low bow and the rest of my respectful nice to meet you routine.  I get directed to the office by a group of middle school girls and I head on in to greet the administrators.

‘Hello.  The principal wants to see me’ I say.  The lady looks unblinkingly for a moment or two and then, almost reluctantly, walks to knock on the golden door. It is opened and thus ensues a rapid conversation in Korean.  Instead of being ushered in as expected, a rather kindly man comes out the room and greets me hello.  It takes me a few seconds to realize that this is the man himself so I bumble the first bow and feel the need to bow a second time, as then does he, thus negating my whole respectful intention.  Then we do the western handshaking, with the eastern arm under the elbow my end, and say various introductory things in both languages.

After all the slightly flustered introduction business is over, Mr Middle School Principal tells me: ‘I didn’t send for you.’

‘Oh’ I reply. ‘Erm… Mr Kim said you wanted to see me.’

‘Do you know what day it is?’ He asks with a smile.  I do, I realize.  It is definitely April 1st.  Apparently April fools is a tradition that transcends cultures.  We all laugh long and hard, then I turn red and he loads me up with cakes as I leave the room.  I return to my classroom to plot revenge.

Belén Lobos

Out of the ordinary stories in images and words Periodista independiente

Sophia Sheridan

en-route to something, somewhere, it began...

another side of the world

Teaching in Yangsan, South Korea. Travelling where the wind blows.

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