Saturday, January 30, 2010

Halfway home and we'll be there by morning

My second week in Daegu was a contemplative time, maybe because I had more of it to myself. I had no dinners with friends, though I continued to see them at work. My major work for the week was writing essays, talking to classes, preparing visual aids, and writing up schedules and plans, all of this for Friday's biennial LIKE debate, this one on the (appalling) topic of whether Korea should mandate post-prison GPS anklets for sexual offenders. The whole thing, frankly, is a big dog-and-pony show: dozens of kids prep for hours to cough up the same talking points I laid down, for the benefit of a few parents who attend, most of whom don't speak much English anyway.

But I had my capacious ego stroked: the classes went well; I ran the debate more smoothly than it had gone the last two times, when my role was ancillary; a couple of the more advanced students with whom I'd been working one-on-one said that I'm an excellent writing teacher; Jesse said she learned from watching me interact with classes; and a bunch of the younger kids I used to teach lit up when they saw me, exclaiming "Cone main! Cone main!" (That's the Korean pronunciation of my name.)

So there's that.

Overall, being at LIKE again, I felt as Conan O'Brien would have felt if he'd accepted moving his show back to after midnight. I've graduated from the hagwon teaching world. It was odd.

The Loving Hut I'd found, which I mentioned in my last post, turned out to be different from the ones in Seoul, which are big all-you-can-eat vegan buffets. This one was a sit-on-the-floor place with a grand total of two items on the menu, both of which were soup. It's good soup, though, kinda rich and mushroomy. And I went to see the movie 500 Days of Summer, which I think is terrific. And I watched a lot of Scrubs in my hotel room. The social ramble ain't restful.

The low point of the week came on Thursday, when I walked back to my old neighborhood in the hopes of a miracle reunion with Tiki. The last time I was there, the building I'd lived in was gutted, just a big brick box. Now it was gone completely and there was a big corrugated-metal box of a building in what had been the back yard in which I'd sat for hours waiting for Tiki to come out. If Tiki had still been nearby when they started putting up that tin shoebox, no doubt the banging and whirring scared him away for good.

But I walked the maze of the back streets-- they're remarkably squared-off and blank, like some early shoot-'em-up video game-- and hoped. No Tiki. He's gone for good.

When I left LIKE on Friday, Heeduk was snoring in his recliner and I slipped out and walked back to Dongdaegu Station. On the KTX ride back, I was feeling mellow, not sad, just subdued, as I thought Long Thoughts about Daegu and whether I'd ever teach at LIKE again and family and Tiki and Korea and home and how you-can't-go-there-again, and realized that home for me is whatever apartment Tug's in.

I finished an excellent book, The Curious Adventure of the Dog in the Night-time, five minutes before we pulled into Seoul Station and flipped on my iPod in time to hear one randomly shuffled song, Arlo's City of New Orleans. There's never been a more apropos song for arriving at a train station at night, eight thousand miles from your roots.

Good night, America, how are ya? Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son.

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