Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Semi-Permanent Soul

She walked towards her car. She stopped. She hadn't parked there. Had it moved? It looked exactly the same apart from the rust job being in a different location--on the bottom of the door instead of the top. She gazed a while at the twin-like car as if it were a crystal ball and saw her possible future.

This was an old game....a fourteen year old Ford--same as hers-- driven most likely by the pleasant visitor she'd run into in the coffee lounge. He'd put his portfolio down to stir his coffee. It was over-sized and comprehensive....the kind you take with you when you really need the job. Ten years older--same fourteen year old car. Still piecing things together....MWF here....Tuesdays there...Fridays from 2 to in the boot. They'd had an informative conversation.

"A portfolio?"
"Yes. I'm applying for the new art position....artist-in-residence for next semester."
"Oh. Good luck."
"You teach here?"
"Yes. Artist-in Residence."

Hmm.  She'd had a review the previous week. The art teacher was putting his feet up and giving new graduates a chance to put a notch in their CV by taking his classes.  She'd run into a friend on the El coming back from the interview months ago. The friend passed her the info. It paid just enough to be called a job.

"The students like you a lot. We'd like you to stay...semi-permanently."
Hmm. I wonder if semi-permanent is more permanent than temporary? The new recruit was ten years older than her. Did she really want to be chasing after the same job ten years from now? It seemed that people with MFA's spent their lives floating from one temporary obligation to another. Freedom had taught at The Art Institute for twenty years and she wasn't tenured. Live a little. Dial the number. It'll all be here when you come back.

1-800-ESL-ASIA The booklet arrived a few days later along with a bonus catalogue of fisheries in equally wild excursion if not more so. She'd run the xerox machine out of ink copying her CV. All the schools in Seoul. That's where she was wanted. She'd had an invitation to be Artist-in Residence there...but again, they could only pay a nominal fee.

Weeks later, the phone was ringing off the hook day and night. Fifteen schools to choose from complete with visa, housing, a decent salary, and a one way ticket to Seoul. The questions were strange....nothing to do with grammar or experience or education.

"Is this a recent photo? What number age are you?  What dark is your complexion? Was this taken in the summertime? Are you fat or thin lady? Are you talk English or American? What is your favorite color? You like children? You not married? Do you like Kimchi?"

It was a strange test to pass. She chose Pagoda Junior. They had the least typing errors, a stylish colored logo and called in the daytime. They were aware of the time difference. And they had a color printer...a sign of some organisation. "We will send your ticket. Mr. Lee will pick you up from the airport."

She sold her bed to a friend in her hometown hoping that she'd buy it back in a year's time. She liked that bed. She sold the Mexican bench to her mural painting friend. It was falling apart. They'd had many coffees on it. The antique curio went to Mari who's sister was taking a refinishing course. And the rest went out.

She looked over the clouds and felt nothing. A clean slate awaited. After collecting her suitcase, she searched for Mr. Lee. Everyone was Mr. Lee. She went to the bureau de change and got some coins, made a phone call to the school. The number worked.  "Mr. Lee is there. He is waiting for you. He is short with dark hair." That helps.

The crowd gradually thinned out to reveal one man leaning against a pole smoking a cigarette. "Are you Mr. Lee?" He bowed and managed a hello. He was obviously not paid to speak.  He put her luggage in the back of a very small pick up truck. She had either grown a foot or the world had shrunk. It was toy like. This was toy land.

Neon red crosses lit up the hillsides. "What are those?" They were the signs of Christianity flashing on and off like bars in a red light district. He talked. "You know this game?" What game?
"This ....teaching game." He rubbed his eye in a tired cynical way and shook his head ever so slightly. The engine stopped outside The Love Hotel. Strips of red and white plastic curtain concealed the parking lot for discreet entry. It had a similar red neon sign as the churches....neon must only come in red here....but was heart shaped instead of a cross. The entrance smelled of paraffin. A small round heater blocked the doorway and the attendant who was only a foot taller than the heater rose from his mat and took some cash with his soju swollen fingers. A room, a mat, a heated floor and a locked door. "You lesson tomorrow at eight. I come. I take you."

"Bring I. I bring...I bring you eat. "

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