A well known ‘problem’ foreigners have in Korea is predicting at what speed and in which direction a Korean is going to walk near you on the street. They are notoriously erratic in their travel from A to B and one must always be wary. I have become mostly numb to this specific issue (except for the occasional krazy who walks AT me at Home Plus).* But that is because all my anger is used up in another daily Korea walking conflict: Getting from Office to Cafeteria.
See, this can never happen in a normal manner and it never ceases to enrage me. I’ve wanted to write about these ten minutes for a long time because it is a daily fight. But it makes me so mad that I can actually feel my blood pressure rise and I don’t know how to write it nicely. The best I can do is present the situation factually and reflect on each part.
Usually (70% of the time)
12:29: I descend from my 4th floor private classroom office to meet with the subject teachers on the 2nd floor, where I used to reside.
Thoughts: We are supposed to eat at 12:30 every day. And by ‘supposed to’ I mean that is about what time we left when I lived in that office and that was the time I was instructed to meet them now that I’ve been exiled. Lunch is the only reason I go to that office.
12:33: I have arrived three minutes ago and am still waiting, literally twiddling my thumbs, staring at the ceiling, and sighing loudly (universal signs of exasperated boredom), while they sit with their backs to me, absorbed in their computers. One person may be finishing up a spreadsheet, two people drooling in front of the Naver homepage, and one person just beginning to stand up to go to lunch.
Thoughts: This behavior is absolutely infuriating. If it looked like they were harried to finish something important, I would understand. Not emotionally, because it’s lunch time, but logically, I could see how three minutes might pass unnoticed when you are trying to get something done real quick. However, it seems that no one is doing anything important at all (staring at Naver home screen is not fucking important) and that they cannot tell time. Further, my arrival, which is always at the same time every single fucking day, rarely triggers a, “Oh! It must be lunch time because Megan is here! For that is why she comes down at the same time every day! Perhaps I should lift my ass from my chair and proceed to the cafeteria now!”
Since this situation occurs before a meal, my threshold for this kind of nonsensical bullshit is tragically low. The three to five minutes I spend waiting for them to stand the fuck up feels like 25 minutes and I react as if it were. I’m fucking hungry and you said 12:30.
12:33-12:36: Finally, something will happen, maybe one of them will say, “Other teachers, let’s go eat,” and the other teachers begin to stand up. No one looks at the clock, surprised by the time, as if they hadn’t noticed the hour. No one acts surprised that I am there, as if my arrival had gone unobserved and that’s why no one’s moving.
Thoughts: It’s like there is some *Magical Mystery Alert* for lunchtime, meant only for Koreans. This signal is not my arrival. It is not a number on a clock. It is not the same person standing up every day to announce lunchtime. I have looked for it, desperately, to no avail. I want to understand so that I can maintain some bit of sanity, but I am not Korean and thus not privy.
12:35-37: I am pushed out the door with cheery Let’s eat!s.
Thoughts: The problem with being pushed out the door first is that I am left to set my own pace/the group pace to the cafeteria. When this happens, I inevitably turn around to find all the other teachers about twenty five feet behind me, walking slower than you have ever in your life imagined a human can walk. This used to happen a lot when I first got here and I felt like an ass. Now I know that if I get pushed out the door first, I must act Korean. Linger by the door, pretend to see something interesting out the window, act like there’s something on my shoe, anything that delays progress, while everyone else slowly and fucktardedly files out, recongregates by the door and waits, once again, for the *Magical Mystery Alert* to begin the journey.
12:36-38: We start the physically-short but prolonged
walk crawl to the cafeteria. To get to the cafeteria we must go down a flight of stairs. I have paced myself with the Koreans, and before you step down to the next stair, you should pause and count to two. Pause. One. Two. Step. Pause. One. Two. Step. Pause. One. Two. Step
Thoughts: I am not embellishing for effect.** This is real. And they all do it in the most maddeningly careless way possible. If you filmed someone walking backwards and put it in slow motion, that person would still be moving faster than my coworkers.
12:37-39: I am still deliberately dawdling down the hallway, but now trying extra hard to avoid running into things (children, adults, benches, walls).
Thoughts: Lately I’ve been hanging out with a contract English teacher who is young and really enjoys speaking English with me, unlike everyone else. She will walk a bit quicker with me (because even when I am committed to grannywalking with the pack, habit gets the best of me). But her company presents the second agitating aspect of walking with Koreans: they like to walk in your Bubble.
Groups/pairs of Korean women can be seen walking down the street holding hands or with their arms linked. Most of the time it appears that one of them is actually leaning on the other for support, like an oversized clingy toddler. As a Westerner with space/anxiety issues, I find this behavior reprehensible and never fail to remark to Erin when I see it that, “I would beat the ever living shit out of you if you tried to hang on me like that”.
But my Korean friend does not know my sentiments and when we’re walking down a five foot wide hallway, she walks just right of the center and I walk on her right like I’m trying to hump the wall. It doesn’t start out that way, but as she’s chatting she is drawn to me. We gradually start bumping shoulders, our arm hairs rubbing in the grossest way possible, until I can’t bear it and I inch over and inch over, finally able to inch no more. Then the problem of the bench presents itself as I am now on a direct path of collision and I am forced to move closer to her so we’re basically sharing the very same Bubble, her arm on my boob, in an effort to avoid shattering my kneecap on the furniture. To all of this my friend is completely oblivious.
12:38-40: I finally arrive at lunch and get in line with my coworkers.
Thoughts: I bet you hoped it would end here. But it doesn’t. Oh no. Because now, now my friends, the Koreans are in A MOTHERFUCKING HURRY. As in, “Girl, you best scoop your rice up real fast, sweetie, or I’m gonna pummel you in the butt with my tray and splash soup all over your back!”
It is these inconsistencies that make the ten minutes so blood boiling. Like the surprise of the sudden fucking rush to get food on their trays, sometimes they’ll behave normally. Some days, they’ll be standing and ready to go when I get there at 12:30. Some days, they’ll get right out of their chairs when I arrive. And, occasionally, they’ll collectively bust ass down the hallway for lunch. I’ll ask, “Oh is the schedule different today? That we’re trying to get there quick?” and my coteacher will look at me confused and say, “No?”
No. No, Megan, there is no rhyme or reason to our conduct. Let’s move like snails? Okay! Let’s run? Why not?! We are unpredictable! It’s all about whimsy!
*This could be because I don’t leave my igloo for longer than 5 minutes anymore. Ever.
** Erin and I describe this blog as hyperbolic, which is why this might sound like a Boy Who Cried Wolf kind of story, but I am not exaggerating.