Tales of Old Andong: First Impressions

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The second installment in my ‘Tales of Old Andong’ series, the first of which can be found here. They can be read independent of each other, though. Again, this is a mish-mash of events that happened to myself and others. Indis is a real bar and Hoya is a real bartender. He is good.

It is early in the evening on Saturday. You had spent the day in a productive fashion, having intentionally got lost in the downtown area and slowly making your way back home from there, taking photos and notes all the while. Here is the Jjimdalk Street, home of what the local non-vegetarian expats claim is the most delicious dish in all of Korea. Here is the train station – you’d never actually been on a train before, so you make a note to try it out when you get the courage to get out of Dodge. Here is a Starbucks right by Angel-in-Us, the foreign waging against the domestic.

And at the end, you find yourself back at Indis, as if pulled by the strings of fate. Which, of course, you are. The grizzled woman from last night is there, with a beer and a book, and you take the stool across from her. After you are settled with a beer, she acknowledges you with a nod. “Gettin’ settled in there?” she asks.

You confirm this, and express your hope of being prepared to teach come next week. This seems to amuse her. You ask why.

“Oh, my young friend, best prepare yourself now for a disaster to strike you down. Let me tell you about my own troubled first day…”

The song ‘Toxic’ starts to play. You wonder if the song is somehow connected with the story she is about to tell.

~

Now, I teach at the Christian girl’s high school by the bus terminal over yonder – you’ll get familiar with the latter place soon enough, I reckon. I discovered the nature of the school I was to teach at but a bare day before I moved to Andong – as a matter o’ fact, I learned it at the same time I learned Andong was my destination – and this caused a fair amount of consternation in me, as I am a godless sort and had said so on my application. Fortunately, over the years, this hasn’t proved to be much of an issue, but it twisted up my guts something fierce. From the moment I tucked myself into the passenger seat of my co-teacher’s grey car (every car here is grey, black, or white; see if I’m false), I felt something off in every cell of this here body, and it only increased after being introduced to my other co-teachers, my vice-principal, my principal. It reached a crescendo when I found myself outside, loomin’ over all the assembled students in their white blouses and navy blazers and skirts.

After the national anthem, and many a word I failed to understand, I’m made to give a few words myself. The sun blazed in my face, my head throbbed like a night club, and something nasty was churning in my stomach. I managed to get a few words off all right, being met with applause as I finished, and I raced my way to the bathroom as soon as I the assembly concluded and I could get away.

I made it, thank the stars, and oh, how my heart dropped. In every stall, a squat toilet. (I later found out that there was but one western toilet in the whole school, tucked away in a corner in the ground floor bathroom, but it was out of order half the time.) I did what needed to be done in both directions, but it did my heart sore to learn that the very students I was to teach were responsible for cleaning every blasted day. I’d left no physical evidence behind, but I felt certain that the smell lay down like a miasma over the whole bathroom.

I went to the school nurse after that and got me some medicine. Helped for a bit, it did, but then I was home, I’d drunk up the second dose, and I needed a third fix come evening time.

I’d forgotten what A said about where to get medicine, so I trudged off to the E-mart, hoping to find something to relieve my agonies. It being a Wednesday night, it was right busy, and I felt like a Typhoid Mary, being around all those fine folk. But friend, I searched all over that store, all two floors of it – even through the housewares and electronics, although it would’ve taken a curiously sadistic store planner to place medicine there – and I did not find it. Every kind of instant ramen you could want, and outrageously priced avocados, and the most annoying damned earworm jingle on the overhead speakers every five minutes, yes, but not a damned lick of any sort of medicine. I could’ve wept then, although more dangerous fluids were threatening to come out of my head just then, but I left for home all the same.

Out on the street, I met another of the old-timers – let’s call her ‘C’, cut from the same cloth of hippy as ‘A’ – who informed me that the law was to prohibit the sale of any sort of medicine anywhere other than a pharmacy. Also, it being past eight now, every pharmacy was closed. Despairing something awful now, I had to settle for lemon ginger tea I found in a 7-Eleven.

Well, somehow, I survived and I made it through the next school day with the further assistance of that blessed school nurse, stopping in on a pharmacy on my way home. I remained free of incidents during my working days, until my first day at my second school the next week, when I stepped out of a teacher’s car and had a nosebleed all morning.

~

“Of course, the law’s loosened up since then and you can get some medicine in any ol’ CVS,” she finishes, after she takes a swig of beer. She takes another. “You newbies nowadays don’t know how good you have it.”

You make a mental note to compile a medicine cabinet tomorrow.

This plan is scuttled when you tomorrow arrives and you find that every pharmacy is closed on Sundays.

If you liked the story, please share, or consider making a donation through PayPal or Patreon. Old hands from Andong or elsewhere in Korea are welcome to make suggestions for the next installment. Thanks!

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