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Archive for February, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

The Instructor gently takes my elbow and steers me into the corner of the dojang. "End of class . . . Dodgeball?"

For the past two weeks, my whole life has revolved around the kids' graduation ceremony. Last week I skipped Taekwondo class altogether. I don't know why–being here makes me forget I have a job. Every ounce of anxiety slips off my shoulders. I feel younger, invulnerable, untouchable.

But never immortal.

Watching my martial arts classmates, I can't help but envy them. Oh, I remember how I was at their age. Quicker, stronger, more flexible. My skin was as rough and dark as bark, my muscles were more pronounced and my bones could take a pounding.

When I leapt forward, I didn't worry about where I would land–twisted ankles and pulled hamstrings were faraway places. I wore purpling bruises with pride, cut my nails to the flesh and sported Bengay like perfume.

Now I can't make a jump without feeling it all the way up to my knees. When I wake up, I can feel last night's tumbling along my spine. When I rotate my hips for a roundhouse kick, I feel it–oh boy, do I feel it. At 24, my limbs protest. I'm too old to start over.

But when I put on my dobok and look in the mirror, the giddiness spreads from my chest to my toes and fingertips. For these two hours, I am a kid again–and although I can't take the beatings as well as I used to, at least I'm still willing to take them.

I laugh. Dodgeball, okay. "Haven't played that since fifth grade," I drawl. He doesn't understand my words, but he senses my reluctance. He rolls his eyes and tugs me to the mat.

Squaring off against a tall, lithe high adolescent, I grin sheepishly. Look at the little old woman playing with the kids. He looks me over, and his face sets in battle.

For a moment, I'm startled by his solemnity. Until I realize that he has found a worthy opponent.

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"So I was supposed to tell him tonight. You know, that I like-him-like-him. Put the ball in his court. Because why should I have to hold a torch for him for another month while he's oblivious? I just wanted to get the whole thing off my chest."

T and I lean back in our booth in what has become "our place." Small, dimly lit and uncrowded, its one of the only places in Itaewon where two young, pretty Asian-Americans can talk without getting manhandled by skeevy expats.

"But he isn't here tonight," T said.

"I know. And I was prepared for rejection, you know? I mean, he's the nicest guy I've met here, he's good-looking and artistic and I've had these intense feelings for him since I saw his bookcase. Christ, I just want to find something that's wrong with him."

"Guys like him are hard to find here."

"Guys like him are hard to find anywhere. The problem is that every girl he meets thinks the same thing. He gets hit on everywhere."

"So how were you going to tell him?"

I shuffled in my seat. "That's what's weird about it. I didn't have a plan. When I ask a guy out, I usually have some kind of strategy. I usually have a speech–and a backup speech–I'm a perfectionist with this stuff. I have to know exactly what to do. But this . . . I wasn't sure what was going to happen."

"Call him."

"Well, I can't now. He had sex last night."

"Wow, Pia. I'm sorry . . . But why don't you tell him anyway?"

"He's spending the whole day with her. K says he doesn't even like her, but she just arrived and she's scared shitless. So now he feels obligated to her. I guess I can't blame him. I would probably take care of her too. I guess I'm just disappointed.

"I can't judge him," I quickly added. "I mean, he's young, he's a foreigner and he's only going to be here for another nine months. But he told me he didn't want one-night stands anymore. He said he was embarrassed about that last time.

"But then he gets drunk and fucks a coworker!

"But who knows," I drawl, finishing my rum and coke. "Maybe he'll grow to like her. And then I can get over him. But I'll promise you this–the next time I find a guy like him, I'm just going to act on my gut and ask him out.

"I'm just going to put myself out there, because that's the only way I'm going to get over him, right?"

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Tramp

A tech-savvy friend recently suggested I sign up for an RSS feed. After more than three hours of painstaking research, I obliged.

The upside to having a news reader service is that you can check for updates on all of your chosen blogs on one page. I've just started adding my favorites to My Yahoo! and it's a time saver.

Also, you won't have to go through the hassle of uploading my page, only to see I've once again posted Disney lyrics and/or love letters to boys who don't return my emails.

You can subscribe by clicking the small, orange square on the sidebar. If you have any difficulties whatsoever, please comment as soon as possible.

Just don't ask me about RSS, Atom or news readers. I'm still clueless.

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Matronly

“Pia Teacher wants to be a writer. She wants to write books. What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked a kindergarten class on one of those manic Mondays.

“I want to be a scientist. I want to make money.”

“I want to be a firefighter. I want to fight fires.”

“I want to be a salesperson.” (“Why?”) “I want to own a 7-11 in Canada!” (“Um. Okay.”)

“I want to be a Pia Teacher!” exclaimed Sandy, throwing her arms up in the air.

For every hundred 30-minute classes that make me want to pull out my own hair, there’s five seconds that make my heart pump madly in jubilation.

I have come close to quitting my job three times. I was tired of spending more than half my day in the office while other English teachers clocked in 20 hours a week. The first time I began to pack my bags, my parents talked me out of it. My supervisor cut a few hours off my schedule the second time around.

The third time, I stuck around for the kids.

Now those of you who know me personally are well aware of the fact that I don’t want children—ever. But over the past couple of weeks, my students have really grown on me.

There’s Sandy, my eager-to-please darling. Not only did she memorize her lines for the upcoming school plays in one weekend, but everyone else’s as well.

Then there’s Michael. He compensates for his tiny stature by kicking other students, running into walls and making up these crazy touchdown dances. I used to dread being in the same room as him. But now he’s taking in English like oxygen, and while he still stirs the class into a riot, just watching him respond to my questions in his two-minute periods of solemnity is a reward all in itself. (And I’ve joined in the dancing, much to the kids’ delight.)

But the first kid who ever warmed up to me was Larry. With his pale, perfectly round face, he has one of the most adorable tykes I’ve ever seen. I just want to pinch his cheeks whenever I see him. And his singing voice is shit but he becomes so absorbed during songs and dances that I can’t tell him to stop.

Larry also has the constant need to be cuddled. Whenever I enter his line of vision, he putters into me, jerks down my cheap acrylic sweaters and forces himself into my arms. If I’m reading a passage he’ll sit on my lap, and there’s this nook in between his shoulder and neck that’s perfect for my chin. He smells like milk and rice all the time.

One day I was pouring hot water for my third cup of coffee when I saw him sitting on the stairwell, his forehead on his knees. I set aside my drink and sat next to him, resting my hand on his back. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

And then he lifted his head, stared up at me with those slanted black eyes, and planted his face across my lap. I held him for five minutes, stroking his wet hair, all the while blinking back tears. I knew then that I loved him, that I had stupidly allowed myself to grow emotionally attached. And, to my despair, he loved me.

No matter how much I’ll need to leave, I won’t. At least not until my contract ends.

Last Friday, as I was handing out science kits to the kids, Michael bowed and said, “Thank you. Om-ma.” Mommy.

“Don’t call me that,” I said, lowering my face to conceal my grin.

But they had seen it. They all started chanting Omma, pulling at my arms and wrapping their arms around my legs. I was dragged to the ground, peppered with kisses, my carefully-prepared kits spilling on the floor. I laughed, sat up and held them close. “Don’t be a baby,” I chided, flicking Michael on the forehead.

Of course, I would never want to take any of my students home. Being their teacher is hellish enough.

But being their Pia Teacher—now that’s another story.

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Resolutions

New blouse. New heels. New purse. New earrings. Manicure. Push-up bra. All for a guy who didn’t even show up.

Spent the night at a friend’s place—left shortly after he crawled into bed and tried to spoon me.

“All you need is one good fuck,” he murmured as I shut the door behind me.

I stood at the subway station at five a.m., hair askew, mascara pooling under my eyes, underwire digging into my flesh, liquor lacing my breath. I stared out at a monk waiting across the tracks. I missed the temple.

I knew then this wasn’t the life for me—the smog, the booze, the bars, the shiny fingernails and pretty clothes. I’ve always longed for something else.

Somewhere in Korea, there’s a place for me. A place where I can see the stars at night, where the tall grass wavers in the crisp air and the rice fields flourish. A place with rows of mountains and dirt that will deliciously crumble under my feet. With beaches where I can sit back, watch the sun rise and meditate. Where I can sip a cup of green tea and accept my shortcomings, failures, successes and death.

A place with where I could grow and thrive and celebrate my life.

Just give me nine more months to finish my contract.

“How do you think Mom and Pa would react if I converted to Buddhism?” I asked my sister this morning.

Nine months. Then I’ll go back.

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Full Moon, Part One

The night before Lunar New Year’s Day, K rested his hand on my knee as we ate pancakes in the New Yorker’s apartment.

“What are you doing?” I snapped. I was never in the mood for his drunken come-ons. I slapped him away and he laughed mockingly.

“You’re so stiff all the time. Just relax,” he said, taking my wrists.

Stocky and muscular, he outweighed me by at least 125 pounds. I dug my foot into his stomach and tried pushed him back. “I mean it. Stop!”

“You’re such a wildcat.” His hand moved up my thigh. I gritted my teeth and glared at him. For a second his face fell and he looked confused.

Throwing me aside, he retreated to his end of the sofa. “God, you’re such a bitch. I don’t even want to talk to you anymore.”

NYer returned as I was rubbing my wrists. He quickly lowered his eyes, embarrassed. “Am I interrupting something?”

“I want to go home,” I muttered, standing up. I was hit with a wave of nausea. I’d been drinking champagne, and in spite of eating six pancakes I was still intoxicated.

“’I want to go home,’” K whined. He stood up and jerked me off the sofa. “Come on, Princess.”

He pulled me along the street, past concerned elders and snickering teenagers. “You can’t treat me this way!” I finally shouted, tearing out of his grip. The street was wavering and as I staggered back I held his arm for support.

“I want to be treated like one of the guys,” I pleaded, locking his gaze. “You know you make me uncomfortable. You have to stop.”

“Your life must be so difficult,” he said. “Poor little princess with so many problems. You’re such a fucking virgin. Get over yourself.”

I didn’t know where we were. The subways stations were closed and my stuff was still at his apartment.

Back at his place, I assessed the situation as he undressed only a foot away from me. Clearly, I was too disoriented to get home on my own. My phone was dead and I was in an unfamiliar neighborhood. At the time, I felt like I had no choice but to stay.

“Just to show you what a gentleman I am,” he murmured, “I’m sleeping on the floor.”

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A Thousand Words

Since this blog has been my only opportunity to write in the past few months, I’ve become rather obsessed about it. Does anyone else find themselves zoning out at work and class, thinking about your future entries and site counter? Trying to piece together a compelling first sentence, finding blog rings and comparing yours to the big dogs?

This site was originally created to assure my friends and family that I was alive and having adventures, but at some point it became therapeutic. At the same time, there are moments of anxiety–there are times when I regret past posts (like the one directly below) and wish I wasn’t so nostalgic. I definitely think I could have done a better job with my writings on the temple–it was so much more than what you’ve read on the site, but I’m not a good enough writer to do it justice.

I think I need a ghost writer. Anyone interested?

Future plans: Gathering photos of the gorgeous landscape. I’ve wanted to insert pictures for a while but my camera’s busted so I have to resort to begging friends. Also working on “Full Moon,” an account of my stay in Seoul during the Lunar New Year weekend. And yes, you will know more about the guy.

In a few days, you might notice some of the names in my stories have changed. My entries have been rather detailed, so in order for me to protect myself it has become necessary to edit my posts. If you get confused, just look at previous entries. And feel free to email or comment on what you don’t like about my writing. I always appreciate criticism.

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