With Bill no longer teaching at the school, my workload has doubled. I remember fondly sitting at my desk during the first couple months at work and reading for pleasure, taking long exploratory walks through the neighborhood, sitting down to eat in restaurants. It’s not that this work is hard. But it’s still work. I watched a little boy eat a booger and a scab all during the same class the other day. Now I pray daily that one of my private lessons will be canceled to permit me an interlude to the day’s tedium. It could be that one of my students comes down with a communicable sickness. Okay. Maybe one of my kids could attack another one of my kids with some terrible, improvised instrument lifted from the sidewalk, thus granting me twice the respite. Perfect. I call out to whatever gods might hear for car accidents and house fires, faulty swing sets and cadmium-tainted playthings. A plague of biblical proportions, perhaps.
I wake up one morning with a mouthful of something thick and brown that’s just been horked up from my lungs. This is karma. I think I can taste my spleen so I call off work and spend the rest of the day loudly hacking bloody sputum into the bathroom sink. I put Hawkster McLoogenspit to shame. I am what I hate. It persists for the next four or five weeks, and at one point appears to subside but never clears up. What is wrong with this place? Is it this apartment? I’m beset on all sides by cockroaches. Aren’t they the harbingers of blight and decrepitude, or some such wretchedness? While I sleep they scuttle about the sink and the range, and when I wake in the night and turn on the lights they scatter like swift cowards. I play a game where I sit quietly in the kitchen, cross-legged in my underwear, and hunt them. I keep the lights off and then turn them on unexpectedly to squash the bloated stragglers with rolled up fliers found taped to my door. Is this what’s keeping me sick? Am I inhaling the smashed filaments of dead cockroaches? They surely have their way with my dishes drying in the rack. All that miniscule contagion. The whole floor must be infected. The whole building! The tiny pestilent trailblazers are burrowing avenues of disease from one apartment to the next.
I fail to understand how I can be afflicted by something for this long and not see my condition deteriorate. I’ve avoided consulting a doctor for much worse in the States, and am less keen to the idea here. Death seems an implausible outcome, yet I can’t help wondering at the possibility of retching the last gasps of my existence beneath this unlikely sky. Is my body mailed home? How do Koreans prepare corpses for interment? Who pays for it all? Who opens the package on the receiving end? Am I gift-wrapped?
I make enough money to stock the refrigerator, to travel to places yet unseen. And I live simply, a mattress on the floor, a lamp, the clothes I could fit into two suitcases, two electric fans and a rice cooker. I can long for the possessions that I hope will one day come with greater wealth, and at the same time know that I will one day remember the freedom that accompanies their absence.
Having the apartment to myself does bring a quiet and welcomed privacy. I’m happier living alone–with exception to the cockroaches of course–and even the smells and the sounds of this place that were once so strange and unimaginable have become familiar and acceptable to me. It’s amazing what you can get used to. And yet, I am at the same time lucidly aware of being bereft of any substantial companionship. I write home asking for news of my dog. The response I receive is not promising. He’s lost more weight where there was little to lose. His eyesight is worsening. I wonder will I see him again, warm and cognizant. I contemplate leaving, jumping on an airplane and abandoning the job unexpectedly. Why do I stay? The contract? Because I said I would? Of what value to me is the opportunity that I would squander? Of what value am I to anyone here? I am without considerable emotional succor, and perhaps, that’s something I’ve taken for granted in the past. I think often of my strongest friendships and of women who’ve given me more than I’ve deserved. I think of family and the permanence therein.
Koreans need to consider an additional measurement when selling pants to Americans: girth. I don’t have the legs of an NFL running back, but buying jeans in this country makes me feel like Kirstie Alley. I brought one pair of jeans with me when I came that were suitable for a work environment, and in the time that I’ve been here I’ve managed to wear a hole in the crotch, right in the place where my right nut likes to swing. It’s nothing enormous–the hole that is–and I think I’ve been able to hide it well enough until last week when I caught the director’s brother staring right at my shit. I wasn’t helping matters any by sitting like a bow-legged pervert, and this happened to be at a school birthday party for a few of the female students who were turning fifteen this month. Oftentimes, I’ll put things off for as long as I possibly can until something happens that makes it necessary for me to take action. I don’t say that out of pride but honesty. This was the last time I would be wearing my crotchless denim to school.