Good morning, Hayley, says one of my Korean colleagues, coming into my classroom and approaching my desk. I’m going to the gym.
She stops and looks expectantly at me. I gaze blankly at her from behind my coffee cup. There are so many strange things about this situation that my sleep-addled brain just doesn’t know where to begin forming a response.
a) We have just arrived at school. Why is she leaving immediately?
b) Why is she telling me?
c) What does she want me to say?
d) Does she mean she’s going after school? If so, is she asking me to go with her?
e) Why on earth would she do that?! Has she decided to take action and force me to exercise?
I do the only thing I can, which is take a long, thoughtful sip of coffee and continue to stare blankly at her.
I’m going to the gym tonight, she repeats, with the extra word helpfully erasing thoughts a) and b) and leaving me with horrifying feelings of d) and e) as I ponder c).
Err… OK, I say eventually, just because it seems like I should say something.
OK? she asks politely.
OK, I confirm dazedly.
And the zoo tomorrow, she adds.
There is a brief pause.
Also, the wolf lives in the woods, she concludes.
I think I may still actually be asleep, for this conversation is making even less sense to me than the conversations I usually have with my non-English-speaking colleagues. I briefly wonder if she’s started using drugs. Or if the antibiotics are making me crazy.
WOOOOOOLF, she repeats, enunciating very clearly. WOOOOOOODS. Gym… gym… gym… zoo.
It is a sign of how much I have adjusted to the oddities of my daily life here that I now understand what she is talking about. When I first got here, this sort of occurrence frequently left me feeling like I was losing my grip on my own sanity.
Yes, I tell her, all correct. Perfect, in fact. Gym. Zoo. Wolf. Woods.* Excellent!
Thanks, she says happily, leaving the room without another word.
* All words that Koreans typically find extremely difficult to pronounce correctly, in case you didn’t get that! ;)