A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Uncle" Al

Our school employs a kindly old bus driver to pick up and drop off the kids. He has a very gentle demeanor and speaks no English, but when he first came to the school he told my boss he thought my face was very kind. Since I've been appallingly lazy and learned next to no Korean, we have no way to communicate other than through simple gestures and smiles. When I come back from my dinner break he looks up at me and makes a questioning spoon-to-mouth gesture. I smile and nod. On a particularly cold night, or when my belly isn't quite filled up by bibimbap, I'll stop by a food cart on the corner and get hotteok, which is like a pancake filled with brown sugar and cinnamon. If I walk through the door with one, the driver will give me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. It's a favorite.

I don't know a thing about him— where he comes from, if he has family or anything, but yet he has a very telling manner about him.

He'll always talk and joke to the kids, give them little candies, and I think I've even heard him "cut a few for laughs" (as apparently George W. is also fond of doing). I'd guess his age as mid to late fifties, but his character seems much more kindly than many of the beat-down looking old folks I tend to see.

He sort of stands to the academy as an endearing uncle, or a favorite custodian from a schmaltzy after school special. If he had an English name it would be Al or Joe or something like that.

It just shows the power of body language and mannerism. We've exchanged no words but we both have a plain view of the character of the other. It has no depth of course, that concept we both have of each other, but the fact remains that we aren't strangers even though we've never spoken.

Then again, he might be a spy. I'll never know.


Anonymous said...

He's a spy out to gather info on the inner workings of the hagwon. He's taking that place down from the inside out.

The bus driver at my school has remained mostly a ghost to me. I've never shared a word with him, and he's never given me a thumbs up ever! You lucky fool.

Pam said...

Maybe you could buy a hotteok for him as a gift from the gut !