Friday, February 25, 2011

Postal Service

I got a package from my parents this week. It was sent through UPS, and apparently a stack of CDs, a New York Book review, a box of chocolates, and an iPod Nano are the weapons used in South Korea to stage a military coupe.  I was in the middle of explaining the present progressive to a class full of eight-year-olds when my manager Ji Seon, or Nancy (her English name), came into the classroom.
                I was in the middle of jogging in place while saying, “I’m running,” when she tapped me on the shoulder.
                “Here,” she said handing me a telegram. I put it in my pocket, and used the opportunity to teach prepositions.
                “I am putting the letter in my pocket,” I said emphasizing the word in and stretching it with my hands. The students smiled, and one little boy in a plaid vest and gray shorts whispered something to the girl next to him in Korean. They smiled nervously and nodded as if I were holding them hostage. Then they old shouted, “I put the letter in my pocket,” chewing the words as if it were taffy stuck between their teeth and drooling them out. The heater sighed in the back as they stared at me, its plastic mouth open at the top of the back wall sucking in all the sound in the room.
After class I opened the letter. My name was in English at the top, and then a sequence of letters and numbers at the bottom. In between were the houses, pagodas, and slanting ramps of the Korean language. They written across embroidered paper with roses and cherry blossoms silhouetted around the message. It seemed official and I worried it was a phone bill. I thought a phone bill was impossible because it was taken care of through the school, but then I worried it was an extra, secret phone bill for my two calls to America late at night when I got drunk and wanted to tell a story.
                I ran towards Nancy’s office, and asked her to translate what might be a bill. I twisted my way through the locust swarm of screaming children, and through the breezeway. I walked into her office calmly and handed her the piece of paper.
                “What is this?” I asked. I placed my hands on my hips, and then crossed them over my chest, while she puffed out her cheeks, and narrowed her eyes reading.
                “Oh, it says you have a package, hold on,” she said picking up the phone. She began shooting in Korean, the words coming fast like she was dicing them on a cutting board. I stood in the small room. Her desk sat in the center of the low lit room that made the bricks look like oak squares. I thought about sitting down in the chair, but it was pressed against the glass wall, and it looked low to the ground. “Here, they want to talk to you,” she said handing me the phone. I looked at the phone before taking it.
                “Hello,” I said.
                “Hello…Mr. Wroo…” the voice began stuttering on my last name.
                “Yes, I’m Brian Long,” I said. I heard her smile on the other end of the line.
                “I have a package for you from Linda,” she said. The chirping of forklifts and the machine gun orders of warehouse workers echoed and wailed past her like sirens. “But I need you to tell me what it’s for.”
                “Okay,” I said trying hard to listen. Nancy crouched beneath the phone cord, typing at her computer with her face planted into the keyboard as if she were blind. She smiled while I talked.
                “You get CDs, iPod, chocolate, paper…um…what are…will you do with these?”
                “I…well,” I didn’t know what she wanted me to say.
                “The chocolates, what will you do with the chocolates?” she asked.
                “I’ll eat them,” I said. She laughed. Nancy laughed. I just wanted my chocolate, and Lynyrd Skynyrd CDs.
                “And what do you plan to do with the CDs and the iPod? Why are you getting the CDs and the iPod? We need to know?” She said, interrogating me.
                I paused wondering if the South Korean F.B.I were listening in, possibly instructing her on what to say. I wanted the chocolates, and I needed to play air guitar to Tuesday’s Gone.
                “I’m going to download the music on to my computer and then put it on the iPod so I can listen to the music…” I said. She sighed. A forklift screamed past the phone, and what sounded like marching and clacking metal echoed behind her.
                “Could you email me everything you said so we have it?”? she asked. I agreed, she gave me her email, and Nancy ducked as I reached over her to hang up the phone.
As I typed an explanation for the package, I tried to imagine how southern rock and an iPod Nano could take down a government. This was why there were no drugs in South Korea, or handguns, or dirty fun. I sent the email, and thought about all the bad decisions Koreans will never make.