I walked to my last class as a foreign English teacher at Hallim Girls’ Middle school. A few kids were scouts in the hall, which is not so unusual, but this time as I entered the room someone called out “shija!” and the class shouted in unison “LOOK UNDER THE DESK!” I stumbled backwards as if blown back out of the room.
They pointed to the front desk and there was a basketful of snack food there; another student approached with an armful of letters from what looked like every girl in the class.
So, I cried. A little. And we had a snack party during the movie and I read all my letters. And then I went to hand out papers to the other teachers with my contact info and lost it a little more somewhere around the main teacher’s office; felt very Korean holding my hand over my face, not really sure why I was crying except that it’s so…I can’t think of a better word than touching, it’s overwhelmingly touching when every person you have met is so genuinely regretful to see you go. I didn’t want to go to the second grade teacher’s office at all because that’s where Mr. Jang is, and I’d have to walk through a sea of students who would all see that I was puffy-eyed, and I didn’t really want to cry in front of him, but I went anyway.
“I’m not crying, who’s crying?”
Saying goodbye to him was easy. Easier then than it is now to recall it. He repeated the proverb he’d taught me yesterday that sounds more elegant in its home language –every person who meets will surely be parted. And maybe it was easy because in the course of our friendship we actually said all the things to each other that needed to be said, so at the end chal ka was all that was left. Since that first second round last August, I’ve been trying to figure out who it is that we are to each other and at the end I think that we are, whatever the apparent unlikelihood, kindred spirits.
As I left the office he pointed to the crowd of third graders peering over each other on the staircase –“Why?”
I pointed to my face. “They came to see me cry.”
And it was so hard to get out of the building as the kids literally swarmed me insisting over and over how I shouldn’t forget her or I should wait until she is on TV, or drawing a small heart in pen on the heel of my hand. I gave hugs in the parking lot. Got in the car with my coteacher, finally, and drove off.
…To close my bank account and cancel my cellphone, so of course a few of them saw me again after school let out, as I was still in town, which must have made a retroactive anti-climax. Apparently the money’s already in my account back home. A “tidy sum” as my Dad reports.
The next time I write will likely be in America.