Pain is temporary, but blushes are forever.

You know the whole ‘getting laughed at’ thing?

Does no one else take it to heart the way I do? Or does it make everyone feel as awful as it makes me feel, but you’re all so much better at hiding it or laughing it off?

I really have become a lot less sensitive and a lot better at laughing at myself since I’ve been in Korea, land of Very Little Tact. However, sometimes I do still snap, or at least get horribly embarrassed and turn red and have to furiously blink back tears that are more about humiliation than being deeply upset.

When I think back over the unpleasant (but generally insignificant) moments in my life that stand out clearly in my memory, they have one theme running through them – I was embarrassed. I felt stupid, I felt like someone was laughing at me or judging me wrongly, I felt somehow inferior, or I felt like a larger group had somehow turned on me and was ganging up on me.

Weirdly, when I think about much bigger, more significant times, I can’t quite remember the emotions. Not nearly as clearly as I can relive the embarrassment. Heartbreak, for example. I have spent months and months of my life dealing with very raw, very painful, all-consuming, crippling, I-don’t-ever-want-to-come-out-of-this-room-ever-again heartbreak. But can I feel it now? Nope. I know it happened and I know it was horrible, but when I think back over those times, I don’t feel anything. Why did it hurt so much? Why did I care so much? Why was I so paralysed by it? I can’t remember. I know it was real, but I can’t remember. I suppose if I could, I’d never love anyone again. Maybe it’s some clever defensive strategy of the human heart and mind, so that we don’t all turn into feelingless robots.

I can’t feel the agony I felt when I lay curled up in a little ball for days on end, wondering why that guy didn’t love me any more. These days, I barely remember why I cared, let alone why it caused me so much pain.

I do, however, remember in excruciating detail how embarrassed I was when my P2 teacher smacked me (for my poor handwriting) in front of the whole class. I can close my eyes and be right there at her desk. I can’t remember any physical pain (it was just a harmless spank on the behind, and fairly common back then), but I can remember the shroud of humiliation that wouldn’t fall away, and the amused gazes of my classmates burning holes right through me.

I remember exactly how stupid I felt when some former colleagues laughed at me for measuring out the exact amount of food to feed my new puppy, rolling their eyes at each other and saying “she’s obviously never had kids!” – well, no. I haven’t. They probably didn’t mean to mock me, but my cheeks flamed red and I felt like I was about 5 years old, with the grown-ups making fun of me. Don’t laugh at me! I growled, trying to mask my embarrassment with anger as I turned and hurriedly walked away.

I remember the moment of awkward embarrassment when I accidentally called my P3 teacher “Mummy”, and how it made it even worse when she kindly and tactfully pretended not to notice as I clumsily turned it into a sentence instead. I’m cringing right now as I relive it.

I remember something mortifying that happened when I was moving into my Montreal apartment years ago, the Montreal moving company I hired truly saved me. As the movers brought my stuff inside, a young man detected that something was stuffy about the apartment. He soon found mould and save me from a slow decent into poor health. Thats when I decided to move to Korea only a couple of weeks after landing in Montreal. It wasn’t a huge thing, all I can say is that every time I think of it (and I still do, quite often), I feel the blood rushing to my face and give a strangled little groan of mortification.

I remember all the times someone has verbally put me down in a group setting, to which I instinctively react much like a disgraced puppy dog who’s just been smacked on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. I feel attacked, belittled, stupid, inferior, disliked, unwanted, or all of the above – but mostly, I feel embarrassed. I instinctively mask it with a sudden flare of temper, but when I spit out my retort and walk away, and the flash of fury disappears as suddenly as it occurred, I feel my cheeks burning hot and my eyes full of humiliated tears. It happened to me last week with a group of friends when I was out having fun, and today at lunch time when I was just innocently talking to a colleague. The friends spoke to me in a way that made me feel like an annoying little kid instead of their equal. The colleagues laughed at me for my mispronunciation of a Korean word. Both times, I reacted with unthinking anger, which I didn’t really mean, and ended up sitting alone and trying to not to… well, not to feel. Stop taking things to heart. Stop taking things to heart. Stop taking things to heart.

But I do. I think I always will. Is it just me?

I could tell all this to a shrink, you know, but I prefer to write it in my blog. Sometimes, writing’s all the therapy I need!

More specific than 8:50

It was the sort of dark, gloomy, wet day that has everyone complaining about the weather, yet which I – for reasons completely unknown – really love.

It got so dark at lunch time that we paused to stare out of the kitchen windows at school, watching the wind whip the trees back and forth as it whistled through the narrow streets in a flurry of leaves and rain. A lengthy conversation about the end of the world took place as we switched on all the lights; I stood at my classroom window watching brilliant flashes of lightning tear apart the black noon sky as thunder drum-rolled like it was announcing a very special guest.

I love this weather.

I lost my umbrella to it as I stepped outside after work, but it was OK. I pulled my furry coat hood down over my face and dipped my head against the wind, stopping at the shop for the type of food I shouldn’t be eating but can’t resist on a dark, stormy evening. On a night like that, there’s nothing quite like a big bowl of cheesy pasta, eaten in front of the TV, in your PJs, before snuggling up with your snuggliest blankets and a good book.

However, I must have dozed off before I even got as far as the book part, for suddenly my phone beeped loudly with a message, startling me out of a deep sleep and vivid dream. I jumped fearfully, opening my eyes in disoriented confusion. This always happens to me when I fall asleep at an unusual time. I wake up with absolutely no memory of it, and very little awareness of where and when and who I am.

After a few blinky, bleary, fuzzy moments, I glanced at the time, and my heart jumped in panic. Ten to nine!! I flung myself out of bed and into the bathroom, the hot jet of the shower taking my breath away as I shivered and rubbed my eyes and wondered how badly I must have slept to be feeling this unrested and exhausted.

Of course, as the water beat down on me and I gradually regained consciousness, my memories came back to me and I realised that I couldn’t have been home for more than an hour before I fell asleep. Come to think of it, wasn’t it a bit too dark outside for 9am, even given the weather? Ohhhhhh, hang on. Sheepishly I towelled off and dried my hair. Got back into my jammies, crawled into my still-warm bed.

This is exactly why most of my electronics are set to display military time. There are just moments when you need your clocks to be more specific than “8:50”.

Also, I may be reaching that point where I need a holiday soon.

On a scale of one to yaaaaaarghhhhhhh

I was talking to a friend today about things that “send me into a blind rage”.

There aren’t many, you see, which is why I feel it’s important to be aware of the few triggers for a full-on explosion.

Crying babies are way up there, obviously, and strongly connected to “lack of consideration for others” in general. And of course, we’ve spoken before about my reaction to being told what to do. However, the discussion rapidly spiraled out of control until I was also naming things that merely irritated me, or that freaked me out, so I thought I would organise those thoughts here because, you know, why not, and also I’m bored.

Things that make me go “arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!!!!!” and enter a state of temporary raging insanity, in no particular order:

1. Screaming babies, particularly in situations when I, the innocent and childless victim, am trying to sleep.

2. Racism, bigotry, prejudice in general. I literally do not and cannot understand this. I have never understood it. I don’t get how someone’s skin colour, nationality, or ethnicity could even vaguely influence what you think of them as a person, never mind how it causes hatred, murder, and genocide.

3. Being told what to do. Just get off my back!!!!!!

4. Bullying. This includes animal abuse, child abuse, and those sneaky bastards who rob little old ladies in their homes after pretending to be there to read the electricity meter or something. Anything where an innocent, weak, or defenceless person or creature is being harmed in some way. It makes my blood boil, and is one of very few situations where I can see myself becoming physically violent.

5. Being talked down to, patronised, mocked, laughed at, ridiculed. I don’t mean being teased and ribbed by friends, people I trust. If I know someone loves me, then they can make fun of my bad habits, the gaps in my general knowledge, my mistakes, my clumsiness, my fondness for cocktails and karaoke, my forgetfulness. In a weird way, it makes me feel even more secure in my friendships when I know that someone not only sees and accepts the things I might feel a little insecure about, but embraces them as endearing or just plain funny. But a stranger, or an acquaintance, or an enemy who dares to criticise my disorganisation, or ask pointedly if I realise that I always have a drink in my hand, or makes me feel stupid for not knowing the names of all the G20 countries… that person is going to trigger an angry (but mainly defensive, guilty, and/or paranoid) outburst.

Things that irritate me to the point of swearing repeatedly and needing a cigarette ASAP, in no particular order:

1. Students who don’t listen or think. My biggest gripe lately is when I’m trying to focus on a particular sentence structure that I know is different from the Korean way of saying it – this week, it was “I have [number] [noun]”, like “I have 2 eyes” or “I have 1 sister”. In Korean, it’s “I [noun] [humber] is”, like “I eyes two is” or “I sister one is”. Obviously that’s going to be a problem, so we have material specifically designed to drill the correct sentence structure into them. NOT ONCE have they heard any of us say it the Korean way. Over and over and over again, they have heard us singing, chanting, and repeating “I have 10 fingers. I have 2 sisters.” and so on. And still they say “I am ears is 2!”.

I tried one last-ditch desperate attempt to fix the problem in art class with the baby class yesterday. I had them draw pictures of themselves dressed in scary monster costumes, and we chatted about them as they worked. “I have 3 eyes!” I said chirpily, pointing at my here’s-one-I-made-earlier drawing on the board. “I have 7 arms! I have 2 noses! I have 9 legs!”.

“Teacher, look!” responded little Andy immediately. “I am head is 2!”.

“I have 2 heads,” I corrected him.

“I have 2 heads,” he repeated obediently. “And I am nose is 3!” Arrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh.

This happened over and over again throughout the class, until I genuinely thought I was going to lose my mind. Either they don’t hear me, or they can’t grasp how what I’m saying is connected to what they’re saying. Repeatedly.

Anyway, I can’t smoke at school so I ended up shutting myself out on the balcony and yelling as loudly as I dared for 5 minutes after class.

2. People walking around going “Oh, chu-wa!”.

3. When someone pushes in front of me in a shop or at a bar. I usually mutter something under my breath but don’t confront them, settling for a fixed glare or disbelieving raised eyebrows and a frown. The situation can be reversed from intensely irritating to absolutely joyous when the cashier or bartender sees what has happened and pointedly ignores the queue-jumper to serve me instead – or better yet, actually points out that I was there first and they need to wait their turn – but that only happens about 1 in 10 times.

4. Technology. I hate it when the internet, computer, TV, photocopier, or other device suddenly stops working for no apparent reason. I hate that I have to unplug everything and then put it back together and hope for the best, without knowing what the outcome will be or why it works sometimes and not others.  I hate that I am at the mercy of these inanimate objects. I have actually broken things in my frustrated fury, on occasion.

5. Mosquitos in my apartment. I fecking KNOW YOU ARE THERE, so why can’t I find you?!!!!!!!

Things that make me panic in a phobia-like, freaked out kind of way, in no particular order:

1. Cotton wool. But we have spoken of this before.

2. Invasion of personal space – chiefly, when someone stands so close to me while talking that our chests and toes are practically touching, and I can feel their breath on my face. This makes me intensely uncomfortable, no matter how well I know the person or how much I love them, unless we are actually about to start kissing or something. It makes me feel suffocated and trapped, like claustrophobia. I find it completely impossible to concentrate on what they’re saying, as I am mentally panicking and trying to step back in a way that prevents them  from just stepping forward and closing the gap again. A recent tactic is to step back significantly with my right foot while leaving the left one where it was, so that I can lean back on my right foot and create some space between us.  Usually it doesn’t work, as the offending party tends to notice the sudden distance, look surprised by it, and try to remedy the situation by stepping around my foot to the other side, closing in on my face once more. Honestly, the other week I backed away in baby steps for so long that I ended up behind the bar, with my bartender friend looking at me in surprise and asking if I needed something.

Really, what is this?! Does it freak anyone else out? I don’t know why it makes me feel so panicky, especially since I am a very touchy-feely person. I love to cuddle, affectionately stroke arms and hair, that sort of thing – even in platonic friendships. I have one friend who constantly puts his arms around me or touches my knee when we’re sitting and talking, but when we’re standing, there’s always a comfortable gap between our faces. Another friend likes to give me random unexpected cuddles  in passing, but again, is never all in my face when we’re having a conversation. Either some people are unaware of this unspoken rule, or I’m just a little neurotic… oh, shut up.

3. Bugs. Yeah, I may have mentioned that once or twice, as well…

A new house for Hails!

I moved to a new apartment at the weekend, after living in a windowless cupboard for over 3 years. I cannot express my joy at such a simple upgrade.

The fridge isn’t in my bedroom – I have a little kitchen!

It is no longer necessary to turn sideways in order to sit on the toilet – I have a huge (relatively speaking) bathroom!

I don’t wash under a trickle of water any more – I have a powerful shower!

My laundry isn’t strewn all over the place to dry – I have a utility room!

The lights don’t have to be switched on until night time – I have windows! Daylight!! Blue skies and sunshine from the comfort of my own home!

It’s still tiny, and it’s not exactly luxurious living, but it’s pretty much perfect for me. (All I want as an improvement in the next place I live is a separate living room, and maybe a little balcony. ;)) For the first time in a long time, I am happy to get home in the evenings, instead of sighing wearily as soon as I open the door and see the dark, cluttered, cramped chaos.

I have a home, hooray!


Oh, and this is my walk (of less than a minute!) to school in the mornings…


Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa!

I swear, Ann, I can’t take it any more.

I looked at my colleague in anguish, stomping my foot a little as an outlet for my frustration. She nodded understandingly as I continued.

If I hear one more person going “Oh, chu-wa!”…

I let my sentence trail off and made a little growling noise as I stomped both my feet now, practically hopping with rage.

You’ll what, Hayley? asked Ann in wry amusement. Be very careful with this, because I will be watching to see if you follow through with it, and I guarantee it will happen within the next 10 minutes. 

She was right, and I was forced to abandon my passionate but unrealistic threat, as murder is wrong.

“Chu-wa!” means “Cold!” in Korean. I have learned, over the past few years, that Koreans really do not like being cold. Not only do they not like it, but they feel the need to exclaim about their dislike of it to anyone within earshot, approximately twenty times a day. One year I kept a tally of how many times I heard “Oh, chu-wa!” in a week, and while I can’t remember exactly the end total, I do remember that none of my friends believed it when I showed it to them. It was astronomical.

It’s one of those things that shouldn’t really be a big deal, but which becomes a mild annoyance and then gets right under your skin, until every time you encounter it, it triggers an immediate and involuntary twitch – like when someone says “should of”, for example, only worse. I feel like I need to be physically restrained, or at least be gagged to prevent an outburst. Why? WHY?! Why must they declare that it’s cold, over and over and over? Wouldn’t once be enough? Honestly, I have never experienced anything like this in my life before. Never mind the fact that it starts when the weather isn’t even cold (September, this year) and goes on until the sweaty start of summer. Even if you are permanently cold, why must you announce it all the fecking time?! What do you want? Sympathy? Magical temperature adjustment? Agreement? A lollipop?

My colleagues basically walk around hugging themselves over their 17 layers of woolly clothing, exclaiming “Oh, chu-wa!” every 10 seconds or so. It’s the surprised tone that really gets me. Every time, they gasp “Oh, chu-wa!” in utter astonishment, as if they were fine until just this very second and are completely amazed and baffled by the sudden drop in temperature. I want to shake them, I swear. I know I’m sounding like I have rage problems, but you have no idea how f***ing ridiculous and childish the whole exaggerated pantomime is to me.

The other day, I was standing at the refrigerated dairy shelves in the shop, contemplating yogurts, when I was joined by a girl around my age, dressed as if she was heading off on an Arctic adventure. Please note that it was at LEAST 14 or 15°C (which is still t-shirt weather as far as I’m concerned), but whatever. In she comes in her sweaters and furry coat and two hundred scarves, rubbing her hands together to get all the imaginary snow off. We stood together in mutual yogurt-related contemplation, until suddenly she leapt back from the fridges like she’d been shot. “Oh, chu-wa!” she exclaimed in horror, as if utterly amazed that the dairy section would be chilled. Of all the places! A fridge!! Oh, the unthinkable horror!!! I looked at her in barely concealed annoyance, but with admirable restraint turned back to the yogurts. Just as I was reaching for one, she did it again, making ridiculous arm-rubbing movements and hopping from foot to foot. “Oh, chu-wa!”

I gazed openly at her, no longer able to hide my contempt. “Chu-wa!” she whined again, apparently just to piss me off beyond all control.

Are you serious?! I asked in a breathless whisper, genuinely tempted to tip a pint of milk over her head and see how cold she was then. She was literally jumping around like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, and I was the only one there to administer a much-needed slap (or violent shaking). I settled for grabbing my yogurt and backing away while still openly staring at her with incredulity and disgust painted all over my face. I mean, WT actual F?!!

And while we’re on the subject, “Oh, chu-wa!”‘s favourite cousin, “Aren’t you cold?” made its first appearance of the season last week. That’s another delight. They know that I’m warm-blooded and able to withstand extremely cold temperatures. They know that even early spring is too hot for my comfort. They know that I hate those damned underfloor heating systems and the stifling, stuffy, intolerable heat they create. They know that I will happily sit in an air-conditioned room that would have anyone else reaching for a blanket. They know that I only show up in a warm sweater and scarf on the very coldest and snowiest of winter days, and that for the rest of the year I am perfectly content to be at work in short sleeves.

And yet STILL they ask me: “Aren’t you cold?”. Repeatedly. Every day from late October to early April. Why?! Do they really think I am secretly freezing to death and just haven’t the brains to work out that I could wear warmer clothes?!!

Every foreign colleague I’ve worked with has come to enjoy the look of barely suppressed rage, confusion, and irritation that comes to my face every time the words “Aren’t you cold?” are directed at me. They understand my feelings, but admit that it’s hilarious because it’s not happening to them. Once, after weeks of biting my tongue and answering “No, I’m fine, thanks!”, there came a day when I just couldn’t take it any more. “Aren’t you cold?” asked one of the Korean English teachers. I gazed at her in mock surprise. “Thank goodness you said something!” I exclaimed, suddenly aghast. “I didn’t notice. Yes, I am cold! What will I do?!”

My foreign colleague, sitting next to me, almost choked on her soup, and went into a fit of giggles that she had to pretend was caused by a funny text message on her phone.

My Korean colleague went and brought me a coat.