6:50 alarm. Snooze.
6:55am With a reach, I crank the Ondol heating system clockwise.
For the next twelve minutes I scroll through Instagram, deepening a longing, with the highlights of my friends.
7:09- 7:18 am
Under a Luke warm trickle in the bathroom corner, I scrub vigorously at the tension in my skin as moisture covers every inch of the wet room. From the glass soap tray, muffled music plays from my phone. “Elysium” by Bears Den, makes me want to run away.
With one door and one step, I exit the steamy yellow bathroom and enter the damp fluorescent kitchen. In the cabinet, I grab a handful of cashews purchased last night at the market. One more handful and they’re gone. Out of the waste high refrigerator below, I crack two hard boiled eggs, and add two more shells to my assorted bags of trash.
One step, and one door.
Through a cheap pain of glass, with a slightly crooked track, I exit the white kitchen and enter the dark room. With the flimsy white wooden bed frame on my right; the small table and wooden chair crammed into the adjacent wall at its foot; the glossy white wardrobe on the left, and the long white television stand occupying the rest of that wall; with the white light of the kitchen diffused through the frosted glass at my back, and a small square of pastel orange leaking through the lone window in front of me, I sit criss crossed, on an inherited lavender yoga mat, at the center of this room.
My phone buzzes, it’s Lucy.
“Tyler teacher, you have not send me ppt for today 2nd period”.
Dress. Pack. Leave.
The electric lock beeps twice as I close it behind me, entering the smooth, sterile hall. Down two flights, and into the small landing, I press the button as the glass door reveals a cool morning air.
Through the narrow backstreet, middle school children scurry between their school and the convenience store, staring at phones and eating candy. In a bright morning haze, I wait, as far back from the curb as possible as cars race past on green. 4…3….2… I hurry across the fourth lane before they resume.
In the shadows of the looming, multi tower Xia apartment complex, I pace past the ivy lined railings. Through the small cement park, the viscosity thickens. In a slow-moving stream of brown coated children, ages 6-15, I shuffle in my white converse toward school.
The children nag as I approach the foyer of 101-year-old Daejeon Middle. Amongst a stack of hangul tagged cubbies, I find “Tyler Austen Michalek” and slip on my black foam sandals.
Down the frigid hall, and up the chaotic stairs, I shuffle toward the office at 8:24 am. Across another hectic intersection, this one of boys, I step safely through the last door.
“Annyeonghaseyo” I say quietly to the two teachers on the left, and “good morning” to Lucy who sits between me and the menacing VP. “Tyler Teacher, you did not get my email?” “No, I did, I’ll send the PowerPoint now.”
For the next thirty minutes, I scramble through last minute preparations, before my first class.
Into an uncomfortable silence, I slide the heavy wooden door of class 3-1 open at 8:55am. Awkwardly, I arrange my laptop, as a lifeless class sits obediently at the order of my co-teacher. One last shout, then he turns it over.
“Hello class, how are you?”
“I’m good teacher.”
No, you’re not.
“Can anyone tell me what they did this weekend?”
It’s always the same.
45 minutes later, I return to the office, where the Vice Principal sits snoring from his command post.
“Hey Lucy, did you get my email?”
“Yes, but actually I think it’s too short.” “But second period class canceled today.”
For the next three hours, I stare blankly at a white screen, nervously listening to another podcast and tuning out the Korean conversations around me.
“Tyler teacher, it’s time for lunch.”
They tell me every day.
Under the freezing cold faucet, I lather the communal bar of soap between my hands before heading toward the cafeteria. Rice, kimchi, meat mixture, soup, chopsticks. I carry my silver metal tray toward the metal table and sit amongst the teachers in a metal chair.
Amongst hurried Korean teachers, I scarf down my food and filter out.
A shot of water from a small metal cup, and back down the cold damp hall. With 40 minutes ‘till my next class, I change into shoes and take to the school yard.
Around the perimeter of the dusty dirt grounds, and back, behind the tennis courts, I roam the edges of my boundary. “The Joe Rogan Experience” plays in ear.
“Tyler Teacher, 5th and 6th period class are cancel” Lucy greats me back to the office, where I sit, for two more hours.
Online lesson planning “blocked”
After several attempts to be productive, I resort to daydreaming.
“Hiking in Korea…. Korea summer hikes… Summer in the mountains… Summer in Colorado… Summer jobs in Colorado… Summer jobs in the mountains… Summer jobs in Alaska…”
Awoken back to reality with the sound of the 6th period release bell, I grab my plastic yellow basket and head toward the last class of the day. More lethargic kids, another agitated teacher.
With an awkward nod of respect, I gather my things and head toward the exit. Out into the stuffy afternoon air I weave through more students.
“Hello teacher” “Hello”
4:44 pm beep beep beep, the lock flashes green as I enter my dark damp apartment.
Read, Netflix, Korea? Nap.
In a groggy confusion, I fear it’s the 25th.
Dinner. Precooked chicken breast, Romaine lettuce, “hommos”, Kimchi.
Still 2000 steps short of my goal, I contemplate sleep, but with a restless anxiety, I instead take to the streets. Through the underground mall. Over the river. Across the bridge. Through the empty market. And up the stairs.
At 8:45 pm on a Tuesday, I find myself wondering the halls of Daejeon Station, pretending the upcoming departures are mine. “What am I doing, I have to sleep.”
Back out into the night, I walk hurriedly through the neon lit streets. Past, Baskin Robbins, and Starbucks, the bakery, and the food trucks, I resist until relinquishing the battle at a CU for something sweet.
Sat criss cross on my lavender yoga mat, my phone rattles again. “I think we need to talk about today’s 7th period class. Tomorrow could u plz come to school little early?”
Alarm set, 8 hours 59 minutes.
“Train by day, Joe Rogan podcast by night” My eye mask slides back down, and I settle into my springy twin mattress.