Firefighter drills and transcontinental friendships

You never know when anything is going to happen around here.

It just happens.

Yesterday morning, the “helper teacher” at our school came into the office to tell one of the other teachers something. She kept glancing at me, so I knew I was supposed to know, too. But of course, she refused to tell me, even when I asked what was going on in Korean.

Apparently, it was fire drill day.

I went to check out the classrooms where all our kids were holding thin little strips of toilet paper over their mouths and noses, for the imaginary smoke. I sighed. Of course we would do a fire drill during the 20 minute break we have between classes. We then marched the kids downstairs, where, to my surprise, a firetruck was parked out in our driveway and all the kids from our downstairs school were either standing or sitting on the pavement, watching the commotion.

The firefighters kindled a campfire out of tree limbs and branches thus igniting a passionate conversation between the white girls (myself and my co-worker) on the merits of hotdogs and marshmallows. I could almost taste the crispy burnt sugar and Hershey melt of other far away, long ago campfires.

After some time, the fireman gave an extinguisher to the nerdy-cute teacher from downstairs who got to extinguish the fire. He looked like a real fireman, except thinner. My thought-patterns changed from that of American summers to male privilege but I was soon  jolted out of my reverie just in time to see one of the firemen accidentally spray a passing mother and her daughter with white, mystery life-saving powder. The whole assembly of people: teachers, firemen, and kindergartners put their hands over their mouths in stifled laughter.

After this, there was some long-winded talk about fire safety and other things that I couldn’t understand… because it was in Korean. Meanwhile, one of my girls (my co-teacher and I had just been venting that morning about how slowly she catches on to things) figured out how to push the ends of her toilet paper into her ears on both sides, creating a funny little mask. Her idea caught like wildfire and soon, all the kids were making toilet paper masks, thus freeing their hands to play in the dirt.

The whole event concluded with the firemen overwatering our lawn with an impressive demonstration of their giant fire hose mounted on the top of the truck. I was delighted, even if I thought the whole thing was pointless and also “a waste of water,” as my co-teacher put it.

Later, while walking back to my apartment for lunch, I passed nerdy-cute teacher from downstairs, who apparently only works half days because he was waiting for a bus. We both pretended we didn’t see each other.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in New York city, my old and dear friend Kayls was just getting home from a night out on the town. It was midnight her time, but she was willing to stay awake to catch up with a friend stuck in a backwards time zone, somewhere in Asia.

Life is surreal. I distinctly remember our midnight Denny’s coffee dates that happened almost two years ago when Kayls was first throwing around the idea of NYC, and I was throwing around the idea of South Korea. We were both a bit broke and in need of change in our lives. But also, I know we were both a bit scared at the words coming out of our own mouths.

My, how times have changed.

There are many things that I miss about Seattle. Double-short Americanos pulled by amazing baristas, goat cheese, summer berries, the smell and sound of Snohomish, to name a few. But mostly, I miss people. I miss being around people who have known me for years and years, who have seen me through so much. Traveling has distinct advantages and disadvantages and leaving behind the ones you love is definitely maybe the biggest disadvantage.

Over texts recently, I’ve commented to Kayls about how her life in New York seems so surreal. And she shot back that my life in South Korea seems surreal. It’s funny how sometimes only the present is what seems real. I harbor this secret hope that one day everyone I love will move back to the Pacific Northwest so that I can see them again on a regular basis, so that we won’t have to give each other Reader’s Digest updates on our lives. But in the meantime, I’m so grateful for the friends I have who make the time to skype and keep in touch.

Life is always so surreal.

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