Sunday, December 25, 2005

And so this is Christmas...

When I was at USC, in practically every journalism class I took we had to write introductions about ourselves: what experience do you have? are you doing an internship? and the question asked over and over, "Where do you see yourself five years from now? Ten years from now?" I think it was an attempt to dispel any false hopes of instantly becoming the next Barbara Walters. They wanted us to realize that we were more likely than not going to, upon completing our journalism degree, move to Podunk and take a job either on the police desk of a very small newspaper, or behind the scenes (NOT on camera) at a small 5000-watt station.

(Those of you who were around will recall that I neatly avoided the issue by fleeing the country upon graduation. I also had the distinct advantage of being willing to work in radio, not caring a whit for television. At the end of my travels, I was lucky that my public radio internship asked me to do ad-hoc work for them, and I just kind of hung around there until a full-time job opened up.)

I started at USC in the fall of 2005, which means those first "ten years from now" questions were talking about right now. I somehow doubt I accurately predicted "teaching English in Korea" on any of them. I may have said "living abroad," though. It would be interesting to go back and check.

This week we gave an oral test to our level 13 class of 10- to 12-year-olds. They are very conversant in English and can use many tenses. I rather enjoy the class; regrettably it meets only twice a week. Well, I made one of the questions, "Where will you be and what will you be doing five years from now? Ten years? Twenty?"

But who ever knows, really?

Also this past week I got sick, my most illin' of illnesses in Korea. I mean, I was knocked OUT. And the great thing was that the heat and hot water were not working in our apartment for the first few days of the week, when my sore throat/fever/chills began. Well, the thermostat was not working. I suspected my roommate's turning it off last weekend, after we'd been admonished to leave it on and ONLY turn down the dial, might be to blame, and sure enough it was. Our pipes and boiler were frozen and we had no heat nor hot water for two days. I made it through work Monday and Tuesday, although my voice was starting to go, but Wednesday I woke up in such a weak state (although at least the warmth was back in the house, thank goodness) that I used a sick day and lay in bed the entire day. I can count on one hand the number of times from morning to night that I so much as sat up, and still have fingers left over.

I would lie there thinking it might be nice to go get some orange juice from the kitchen. Now mind you, the kitchen is adjacent to my bedroom. If there weren't a wall there, I could sit on the edge of my bed, stretch out my legs and put my feet on the refrigerator. On Wednesday, however, I would start thinking about orange juice, and then it would seem like so much effort, and 45 minutes later there I would be, still lying there thinking about it. The same thing would happen when I thought about the cold medicine in my backpack, and that was leaning against the wall of my bedroom, two feet from the bed. The most hilarious part was when I thought about getting up to do more than one thing, say, get the pills from the backpack and water from the kitchen. It was really like a puzzle for my poor, delirious brain. Where should I go first? Hmm, maybe I can just crawl...

Meanwhile my school's assistant director kept calling, telling me to come to school so they could take me to the doctor. In the snow! Walk outside and find a taxi! That was funny. Frankly, even making it down the stairs of the apartment building seemed out of the question. It was hard to explain this. It was even harder since my voice came out in little squeaks between coughs.

I finally managed to huddle in my knit hat, sweatshirt, and blanket in the cranked up heat long enough to break a sweat and start to feel a bit less feverish. Around 9:30 p.m. I found the wherewithal to order a pizza. I had to psych myself up for the walk to the front door (twelve feet, tops). I leaned against the door frame while he got my change. I was pretty impressed with myself that I accomplished that.

Thursday I did not feel as weak, and I went to work, partly because we don't get many sick days and partly because I have fewer classes on Thursdays. Plus, it was the first day of our Christmas parties so it wasn't too bad. They would have been screwed had I not gone, because one of the Canadians had a vacation day that day, so everyone was already covering his classes. I had NO voice whatsoever though. I truly could not talk above a whisper, and barely that. I had pre-school color and copy sentences the entire hour, and then I went to the doctor where they sprayed mysterious things into my throat and nose (and with instruments I did not find particularly sanitary, I might add). I also got a prescription for another Korean pills concoction in little daily dose packets.

In my afternoon classes we had Christmas activities and I sat around in my scarf drinking water and silently baby-sitting. The kids drew huge Christmas trees and decorated them with colored pencils, markers, glitter, tinsel, shiny paper, etc., then got to eat snacks and sing Christmas carols. I did have to finish two oral tests in the evening class, and that was funny. The kids kept saying, "What?" I had to score them somewhat leniently, poor things. They're supposed to be able to at least hear the question, eh?

I felt much better on Friday, and I held my head high through my eight classes and Christmas parties, including the big pre-school Christmas wreath extravaganza and "Santa" visit (Santa being ably played by our co-worker from England).

Saturday I declined to go off adventuring and I skipped the Christmas Eve party at Commune's, the foreigners' watering hole, but I did meet my friend for coffee in the afternoon. Then I stayed in the downtown area enjoying the crowds, the shoppers, the Christmas music, the band concert, and other random festive goings-on. I spent a few hours in my big bookstore, reading some O. Henry stories and browsing before picking up a copy of Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings.

My aunt Joyce suggested a few weeks ago getting my hands on a copy of A Christmas Carol and reading it aloud on Christmas, something nice she's done before when spending Christmas alone. It was such a perfect idea! The reading it aloud, not so much, as my voice and throat were unwilling participants this year, but I actually sat in the Starbucks in that bookstore with my toffee nut latte reading it for some time, and it was lovely! Then I came home and read some more before going to bed. It was nice to have his other Christmas writings as well.

Christmas morning was sunny and so much warmer than it's been lately that it almost reminded me of Christmas in Phoenix! It was amusing to walk down my street and see two neighborhood kids outside playing with their new remote-controlled cars, just as I always watch neighborhood kids play with new toys in the States on Christmas afternoon.

I would also like to announce, for the record, that the Disney Christmas Day Parade special hosted by Regis and Kelly and Ryan was on at noon Sunday here, so it was clearly not a Christmas DAY parade in Florida and California where they were taping it! It's a lie! Don't believe it! I think I might try to go to Disneyland Hong Kong or Tokyo before my time here is through. Maybe both. I love me some Disneyland.

Sunday afternoon I met up with the American friends and we went to the home of a Korean friend of theirs I'd met at Thanksgiving dinner. This Korean friend is a really smart, awesome woman who's starting her own English school and is very nice, and she had a slew of people over including her parents and sister and a bunch of English teachers. There was a lot of food, and a lot of laughter, and a good time was had by all.

Part of me likes my solitude enough that it becomes dangerous, but as I was feeling a little anti-social yesterday (admittedly, still sick as well, but, let's face it, moody and anti-social), it was really good for me to read about Scrooge. We must remember that a big part of his problem was that he never enjoyed anyone else's company. It wasn't just the miser thing or the anti-Christmas humbug issues. He would not spend time with his nephew! He would not laugh! Yet his nephew, and Bob Cratchit, never gave up hope and they continued to treat him with kindness and drink to his health. Redemption is possible and oh, so wonderful!

Before I picked up the Dickens, I browsed among other things a copy of the New Testament. One of the results of having been an exquisite Sunday School student back in the day is that I still have random memorized scriptures pop into my head on occasion. I've actually had the parable of the talents from Matthew on my mind quite a bit lately as I try to decide whether to enroll in law school, and if I'm meant to be a writer, and how to go about changing the world. Well, I found those verses but I'd sort of forgotten that the very same chapter goes into one of my favorite parts of the Bible: "When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." -- Matthew 25:38-40

What an appropriate Christmas message that is! Maybe somewhere, in some family gathering, after reading through the story of the Nativity, someone should flip a few pages to Matthew 25 and take in the message of love, actively shown to all fellow travelers on the planet.

I read that a U.S. "diplomat" in Korea this week raked the North over the coals and called them a hooligan state, which angered South Korea, and I think rightly so, as little good has ever come from name-calling, nor provoking the North to anger when South Korea would really like to reunify in peace. One thing I have learned since I got here is that the propaganda machine is in full force, from "our" side about the North. I think it is too easy for us to believe everything we're told, and worse, to think that because a government is flawed it somehow lets us off the hook for caring about the citizens as human beings. We see this played out around the globe, writing off an entire citizenry because of a prejudice or a grudge. Perhaps a better idea is to heed the message of Matthew 25, or the words of Jacob Marley's ghost when Scrooge asks, "But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?"

"It is required of every man," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!" -- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Penguin Classics edition, p. 47

And so that's my Christmas. In a roasted nutshell. I love Scrooge and I love the real people in my life even more. Tomorrow I'll go back to hectic school and this week I'll go back to reading War and Peace and I wonder if I will think about some of the good Scrooge did and felt after his awakening. His is one of the all-time greatest epiphanies, I'll tell you. Also, I can never think about Jacob Marley without thinking about --what was his name, Dan Miller? -- the famous case of pink eye when we did the play years ago. "Where will you be in twenty years?" What if someone had asked me that then, in 1983, when I played a little urchin running around London?

We recently commemorated the anniversary of John Lennon's death. That even made the news over here. And so, where will we be five Christmases from now? Ten Christmases? Twenty? And, what will we have done?

1 comment:

jnap said...

Thank you, Linda. I always learn so much from you. I like your comments about Scrooge, which is, in part, what I feel: I isolate, I know because of a sense of not daring to face rejection. Alone is easier, sometimes. Less risk. I think that was what Scrooge went through, to be honest.

He learned he could put himself out there, and what was or was not taken was still a gift.

A lesson I am still learning in my relationships.

I appreciate your comment about which selection of A Christmas Carol you chose. I had decided to buy a copy, this year, after I did not make it to the library to get one. I just buy so few books. Now, I think I will look for the version that includes Dickens's other Christmas writings.

And, thank you for the reference to Matthew 25. That really says so much more about the "spirit of Christmas."

If you did not receive the piece on Christmas in Senagal, from Aunt Barbara, let me know. Authentic or not, I like the idea of celebrating all religious holidays, which would be a somewhat painless step to teaching us about each other's religions, and more importantly, teaching tolerance.

The question is not where will you be in five or ten years, but tomorrow, or next year? Each day we make a difference, and the more of those days we string together, the more blessed we are....

Teaching English, and teaching those of us who read your blog, about another part of the world, makes a BIG DIFFERENCE. Thank you for sharing the experience with me.