When I arrived in Korea, a friend of Steve’s who had gone back to the States left me a full- length mirror. She told Steve it was a magic mirror. I set it up so I could see how I look in the morning before I head out the door. The first time I looked in the mirror, sure enough there was a much thinner version of me staring back. This mirror is in fact, magic. Now the trick is to convince myself that what I see in the mirror might be a true reflection. I decided after a week of looking amazing and knowing the real truth of this magic mirror that I would go with the illusion and have a moment of joy each morning. The mirror got me thinking about the other illusions we create, that before too long become real. Steve mentioned to me the other night when I said I was really happy here that I might be in the honeymoon stage of my new life. I tend to think it feels pretty good and I’m wondering why I would give up these great feelings for a heavy dose of reality. I already know that I miss a good glass of wine and dinner at Fore Street. I’ve moved on and I take great delight in the real cheddar cheese and Danish salami I pay a premium for at the supermarket. I can learn to live with this. Is it an illusion or not?
I started teaching this week and my students are young, naïve and eager. If they see me on the street they giggle and try out their new English words. “Hello, Teacher” When I’m with Steve and introduce him, the girls giggle even more. It is so endearing. I started a writing program that one of my new colleagues has used successfully. I really do believe that in 14 weeks I can teach some students to let go of their shyness and write about things that matter to them. Thank you Nicole and Eleanor for all the encouragement you gave me when I started writing. I am inspired to want to make a difference in the lives of these students. Is this an illusion? I sure hope not.
When I hear my colleagues complain about how “busy” they are, I have to hold myself back from laughing out loud. I teach 4 classes, twice a week for 75 minutes each. That’s 10 hours a week. When you add in planning time, meetings with students and faculty meetings it still brings it up to less than a full time job. My busiest days are Tuesdays and Fridays when I have 3 classes. I have no classes before noon and I end by 6 each night. I teach one class on Wednesday and one on Thursday. Now, in fairness, many of my colleagues teach more classes but in my book busy is when you work 10-12 hour days and sleep in strange hotels and try to explain to your two young children why you can’t be at their lacrosse or baseball game. But I digress from Illusions.
When I lived in Israel I was always surprised by the fact that Israelis follow almost no rules except two that I was aware of. They sit in their assigned seats in the movies and they only cross the street when the light changes, no jaywalking. I could never figure that out since they are blatant rule breakers about everything else, big and small. Here in Korea, I notice that Koreans are very polite, they seem to follow the rules and want to help and be accommodating to others. So, where do they break the rules? The minute they get behind the wheel of a car, many with dark tinted windows, all bets are off. Somehow Koreans have the illusion that once they’re behind the wheel of their car no one knows who they are and that anonymity allows for uncontrolled reckless driving. There are cross walks everywhere, especially on the campus, and I learned very quickly that they are meaningless for the driver. There is no daydreaming when walking or biking and no living in the illusion that all Koreans are polite and accommodating once they are in their cars.
I started taking Korean classes three nights a week. I showed up to the class a few minutes late trying to find the room and realizing that somehow my name had been dropped from the roster. I entered a room filled with young graduate students. The teacher, a young Korean woman who spoke very little English, was beginning the introductions. She asked each of us to give our name, what we did, where we’re from and our age. OUR AGE? What could that possibly have to do with learning Korean? Clearly I was old enough to be the mother, and in some cases, grandmother of many of these students. The introductions began on the opposite side of the U-shaped table. One after the other the students told their stories. They were from Viet Nam, Napal, India, and China. All graduate students,they are mostly doctoral candidates that were required to take Korean and pass the course. Then Peter from Austria introduced himself; he’s a professor, teaching piano in the music department. By the time it got to me I introduced myself and simply said I was old. Everyone laughed and we quickly moved on. The teacher announced that both Marsha and Peter do not have to pass the class or even take the exams if we don’t want to. Professors are exempt. What a relief! I remembered very quickly how hard it is to learn a new language. I realized that I can hardly remember the names of people I’ve met dozens of times, let alone a language that uses letters that look like symbols, seems to have no punctuation, capitals or paragraphs.
Last week Steve and I were told by the University that someone was coming to our apartment to check for an alleged leak from our veranda to the apartment below us. Our washing machine is on the veranda. When the two men arrived Steve tried to explain that he has not seen any sign of water since he came a year ago. The men spent a few minutes looking at the veranda and didn’t do anything. They left and a few days later we were informed that they were coming back to replace the tile floor to fix the alleged leak. It would take a week between removing the old tiles, setting the cement and replacing the tiles. It turns out that a new colleague of ours lives below us, so I asked if he was experiencing any water leaking. He said, not a drop. He was also told that he would be inconvenienced for a week since they would be replacing his ceiling. All this for some illusion of a problem. I’m sure something was lost in translation but we are now getting a new tiled floor and our neighbor gets a new ceiling and we have solved a problem that may not have existed. One of life’s amazing moments.
I bought a used bike from a doctoral candidate who said he was too busy to ride anymore. I love my “new” bike and I started riding to school. Life is good. I treasure my time with Steve and am slowly and cautiously making friends. There is so much to see and do that Steve and I could fill our time together and alone. I love waking up each morning next to Steve and going to bed next to him each night. No illusion there.
Stay in touch and I will too.