This an absolutely true story of an absolutely normal Friday.
This afternoon, I am certain that I slipped into an alternate universe after climbing the large hill that would take me into town so I could catch the bus home. Allow me to explain in the only way I know how.
After conquering the hill that takes me into central Seogwipo, I heard a faint “Excuse me! Excuse me!” coming from a car along the street. I stopped to find a woman in her late 40s, early 50s calling out to me. Honestly, I thought she was another one of my coteachers; I have been meeting new people all week. Instead, the woman asked if I was a teacher and if I had a moment so she could practice English. Before my brain could process anything, I said that I had about 30 minutes. The woman then took me inside a coffee shop where we had peach iced tea. As it turns out, her daughter-in-law owned the coffee shop, her husband is on the Jeju Island Council, and she learned English on her own. If I remember correctly, she said that she learned English by listening to recordings of the Bible being read in English. She said that she has a group of women that practice English and that she had many English conversation partners in the past who were English teachers. Do I usually take offers from strangers? Absolutely not. My mother didn’t raise an idiot. However, I was glad I stopped for tea.
After the strange tea incident, I went to the post office and then boarded a bus for home. Feeling a bit frisky, I took a different bus, which would go the long way around town. As soon as I stepped on the bus, an elderly Korean man noticed me. The dialogue was as follows:
HELLO! I LIKE FOREIGNERS! (This is from the front to the back of the bus). THE UNITED STATES IS SO GREAT! I LOVE THE UNITED STATES!
May I mention to my readers that this was not in coherent English. After the bus pulls away and everybody is aware of the presence of a waygook (foreigner) on the bus, the man ceases to speak. However, when he rings the bell to get off the bus, the man stops, and in brilliantly loud English says WELCOME TO SEOGWIPO! IT WAS NICE TO MEET YOU! (SOMETHING ABOUT THE UNITED STATES)! The man did not say this while getting off the bus, but he was standing there as the bus door was open, holding up the whole route. I will be forever known as the foreigner that held up the bus route.
I thought I was now out of the way of awkward situations. Now it was time to ride the bus back to where I needed to go.
I was wrong.
Before long, I am the only one left on the bus and the bus driver stops at the “Loyal Souls Cemetery” bus stop for his 20-minute break. He asked where I needed to go, and then he got off, made a phone call, and smoked a cigarette. Now I’m by myself at the Loyal Souls Cemetery terminal end of a bus route with a smoking bus driver who speaks a bit of English. This has happened before; I’m no stranger to riding a full bus route. However, the time at Loyal Souls was eerily wonderful. I’m not one to feel sentimental about nature or secluded places, but the Loyal Souls 20-minute stop made me feel strangely welcome and warm.
I eventually made it back to the Jungang Rotary, where I caught my bus home, and slipped back into the familiar. This may be a normal Friday for most people: encountering English language learners and non-American USA enthusiasts while riding to a cemetery. However, today will be the day I believe I slipped into a stranger world, a different plane of existence, if but for two hours (Okay, not really. But you get my point).
Today is the day I lived an absolutely true story about an absolutely normal Friday.