“The principal wants to have a talk with you during first class. I have class.” So I’m on my on my own. When I arrive in his office, the vice principal excuses herself and the captain is there with a tea set made of dark clay and the dictionary open to the word “present.” He says and writes out on top of a printed school memo: “I would like to present this tea set to you.”
There is a lotus flower in relief on one side, and a fish on the lid. He explains that he saw this tea set and thought “Sara would like it.” Which is perhaps most touching because it’s true. I like it a lot. It was a gift given to him in 2005 by a principal in the Korean region of China, who is like a brother to him. He writes the Korean word for this brotherhood, explains its meaning, writes their two names on either side and indicates the relationship with arrows.
He writes out in Korean the message “I, Sara Teacher, recieved this tea set in the Republic of Korea, Jeju-do, Hallim Girls’ Middle School from Mr. Jin on 2007 6. 4” and instructs me to write it on the box in English. He re-wraps each saucer and cup in tissue and newsprint, then says to himself “tape, tape.”
He opens the refrigerator to retrieve a plastic bag in which there is a roll of green duct tape. I ask why he keeps his tape in the refrigerator, which necessitates a minor lesson on the pronunciation of “refrigerator.” As I believe he explained it, if he kept the tape on his desk he would lose track of it, but if it is in the refrigerator, he will always remember where it is.
In that moment I regained a lot of affection for this man. Not because of the tea set, or the boi cha that goes with it, or the $100 he’s said he’ll give me when I leave, but because, to combat his wandering mind, he keeps duct tape in a minifridge.