My office is on the second floor of our school, nestled between two first-grade classrooms and a full floor above the teacher's lounge and principals office. This means that generally students are the only visitors, giggly high voices and black bobs and hair bows who flip through magazines and ask me for candy.
In my second week of teaching, though, my work was interrupted by the sound of a flung-open door hitting the wall and the appearance of a stocky, tan, wrinkly-faced man in a worn polo shirt and black gold jacket in the doorway. I actually jumped, surprised to see anyone other than my students, and then corrected myself and managed a mangled hello and head-bob bow from my chair. He took little notice of me and stormed over to the sink at the back of my office. He looked down at the tea and powered drink packets sitting on the table, took one packet, and looked my way.
"LAAAYMOAN" he declared loudly.
And then he was gone, taking big steps and slamming the door behind him.
I sat there for a moment and replayed what had just happened. What had he said? Laaaymoan. Laaaymoan. It didn't sound Korean and he said it really loudly like I should understand it. It must be......English! Laaaymon. Leeeemon. Lemon. Lemon, as in Lemonade. As in, the Crystal Light To-Go Pink Lemonade packets the former teacher left next to the sink.
I soon learned that the wrinkly man was actually our school's janitor and copy-machine operator. Language barriers mean that I know little about him, other than that at one school dinner I was at he drank a lot of soju and started doing pull-ups on the rafters of the rather nice chicken restaurant, and that he really loves Crystal Light Pink Lemonade, which you cannot buy in Korea.
He came in several times after that, until one day he held up an empty cardboard box and I was forced to admit that yes, "laaaymoan oppseyo." He looked distressed and then smiled with an idea. "OHMA OHMA" he said loudly, pretending that his hand was a phone and leaning towards me for emphasis. "LAAAAYMOAN CHUSEYO."
I nodded and told him I understood, that I would call my mother in America and ask her to bring more Crystal Light Pink Lemonade packets. To remind me, every time I need to make copies or I ran into him in the hall, he said "LAAAYMOAN," sometimes several times in a row and never quietly. This lasted for six months, until my mom visited last week and gave me the packets I had asked her to bring. In one of my proudest moments, I entered the copy room last week, presented him with the box, and stated two full sentences in Korean:
"OHMA CHONGWHA HASSOYO. SEOGWIPO AY WASSOYO." ("I telephoned my American mother. She came to Seogwipo")