We had three months left in our contract in Korea when I checked out. An end in sight to our two year stint gave me acute senioritis, hating everything distinct to the culture but also all the things that really weren’t. Kimchi and sidewalks both had to go. My body got into the spirit of ire, and one morning I woke up, walked to our bathroom which didn’t even have a shower curtain for God’s sake, and my back gave out. Fuuuuuuuuh.
As B and I walked the four blocks to work that morning, I crumpled in tears every 15 steps or so. I hated that country for not believing in the concept of a sick day except for when you were literally on your death bed. B had had one day of work where he threw up three times, and he still wasn’t given leave, so I knew my inability to stand up straight without crying wouldn’t get me off.
I freaked out my boss Ashley, though, when I hobbled into our office and started spewing breathy, sloppy tears all over her desk and begging her to just help me. Help. Unless you buckle and give me a reprieve, no kindergartener will learn anything from me today except how ugly foreigners look when they cry. Out of sheer mortification of my showiness, she made me an appointment at the acupuncture clinic two floors down in the highrise our school was located in.
“When will it be?”
“Now. Let’s go.”
We rode the elevator down together and entered the office, which smelled of ginseng, Bengay, and waygooken fear. Ashley accompanied me into the practitioner’s office to act as a translator during the consultation. It was decided that my back had given out because I was far too fat to carry my girth without inflicting damage to my frame. This was highly interesting to me because my back problems had started when I was 10 years younger and 30 pounds lighter.
They could have said I was in pain because I was whoring myself out on the weekends to Japanese businessmen and I would not have cared. I just wanted to get my holistic therapy on.
I was brought into a small curtained-off booth in the back of the clinic where I was instructed to lie down on my stomach. A web of heated suction cups were fastened to my back as I lay in agony. Soon enough, the humming sound of their massage made me doze off with images of my seven-year-olds two floors above doing phonics with their Korean teacher. Then came the needles. Prick prick prick. I waited for them to kick in because I’m a good foreigner who respects all traditions that will help me go a day without barfing in front of small children.
Before I knew it, the session was over. Ashley had gone, but the receptionist at the front knew enough English and I knew enough Korea to understand that I would be coming back during my unpaid lunch hour everyday for the next week. I went diligently back to work still in blistering pain but at least not crying.
Weeks later, we met up with friends to go singing at the noraebang, the Korean version of karaoke. I was mostly healed but still incredibly sore from accommodating my fat back. B’s cousin Chad who was also an English teacher commented on my rendition of “Sloop John B.”
“When you sang ‘I wanna go home’, it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s because it’s true.”