Friday, July 13, 2018

"You Inspired Me to Eat"

I'm writing from the Seoul airport because we chose a 23-hour layover here. I should say "we" chose it; Shea is crazy about Korea, and when her eyes lit up over the thought of spending even a day here, I couldn't resist it. I'm not allowed to tell you the details of her craze for this country, but I'm pretty sure this day will be the highlight of ten days of highlights for her. I thought that maybe, even though I have never chosen this always-available option, I would be in the mood to explore after ten days of exploring and gorging myself in Vietnam. But I'm not. Why doesn't Korea interest me? I mean it does in the way that anything interests me - like I should know a little bit about everything. But no. Indonesia, fascinating. The Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, Japan, yes. All of Europe and Africa. Antarctica, But not here, and not really Thailand.

What is it that makes you fall in love with a place? And why am I so head over heels for Vietnam? Those can only be rhetorical questions.

So since I explored a little bit around our hotel area last night and this morning (I ate two Korean meals during these two outings), I came to the airport two hours earlier than the two-hour early check-in. Because even though I don't love Korea, I do love the Incheon airport - one of the nicest I've ever seen. And here I will write some posts about my own highlights over the past ten days.

To begin - the most surprising highlight: bar hopping with my grown-up sixth grade students. Yes, the sweetest eleven year-olds on earth in 2008 are now scattered all over the US, Canada, Australia and the UK in pretty impressive colleges, pursuing the high-level educations all of their parents dreamed of, although not one of them is going to Harvard (seemingly the gold standard when I taught here).

Because I was posting on Facebook instead of here, some of my former students who were home for break saw my posts and suggested meeting for coffee (or beer) during the week. I met some students five years ago, too, but I was expecting it that time since they were still attending the American International School as juniors and seniors.

This time, our first meeting was at a coffee shop and I brought Shea, of course, because, weirdly, she is pretty much their age. It was beyond fun to hear stories of what they have been up to these past ten years.

From left: Terry, who is going to college at Amherst and who is passionate about coaching boys' soccer. He's getting a degree in Sports Management. Then there is Lan, who just majored in Psychology at the University of London. She's just excited not to write any more papers. Then there's David, going to the University of Melbourne and studying Real Estate Development. And next to him, the one that looks so different I didn't even recognize his Facebook picture, is Truong.

While we were talking, David and Truong reminded me that they were in my International Club. When you teach at an American International School, you are required to run an after-school club that meets once per week. "You really inspired me," Truong said at one point. In English? I wondered. Maybe I inspired him with how I taught ancient history, by making all of them into gods and goddesses? But no. "You inspired me to eat," he said.

You see, at first my International Club studied all things culture-related: food, traditions, festivals, dance. But at the end of the first quarter, we had a club discussion and they were honest with me...the only thing they wanted to do from there on was to eat. So our Eating Club was born. Each student paid $20 and we ordered in and ate out. We made quesadillas and salsa, we ordered in Mediterranean, and went out to Mexican. I even wrote a post about it, and you can read it here. It features Truong. So even though Truong is going to complete a triple major at John Hopkins University next year and despite the fact that his father is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Vietnam, when I asked him what his dream job was, he answered, "All I really want to do is eat." Currently he writes for Eater - an online food site for Washington DC. And he knows chefs. Famous ones, like David Chang and Blaine Wetzel of the Willows Inn. "I really want to go to Lummi Island," says Truong, which is where his friend, Blaine, is famous.

That meeting was so enjoyable that we decided to do it again so a few others who heard about the reunion could join us. Truong chose one of his favorite bars, and I really regret not getting a picture because now you all can't see Emily or Maria. Emily is going to Irvine, and Maria is finishing up in North Carolina and spending a semester in Madrid in the fall.

After the first bar, Terry was anxious for us to try his favorite bar, so we went there and ordered the spiciest chicken and a flight of beer. Both times Truong picked up the bill. After the second bar, we walked on "walking street," and I mostly talked to Truong about food and his grandmother's cooking, and where he always takes guests to eat traditional Vietnamese food in HCMC. "I would like to take you and Shea," he said, but at that point we only had one day left and that day was reserved for Thuy and Thanh. But oh man, you bet the next time I come, I am using the former student who claims I inspired to EAT as a reference.

The teaching profession is pretty darn cool sometimes.

And here is the new American International School, of which I was not allowed to take a picture, even though I told the guard I knew Bill Gates. It's a soul-less school (those of us who met decided) and it's out in the middle of nowhere and kids have to be bused from all over the city. I wouldn't work here for a million dollars. Well, maybe. But I loved our converted business building and our ad-hoc faculty. I'm not sure how we made it work, but it sure was fun. And the kids made it despite the aesthetics.

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