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It’s been a melancholy two weeks. I’ve been busy with school, which is my mantra these days. Thankfully, it’s backed down from putting out daily fires and has been mostly fixing systems and coming up with improvements. This is where I thrive.

Nonetheless, it’s been a tragic, unsettling few weeks.

We returned from vacation to find out that our young gym teacher was killed in a car accident on his way home from a funeral. Wednesday, our gym day, we talked to the children about what happened and had that discussion about death that teachers dread.

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Christina returned from the States and called me almost as soon as she arrived. Mama Joy, who was her inspiration to come to Korea, which started the chain of events that led to my immigration here, died the day Christina left Atlanta. Christina was there to take care of her when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Mama Joy was relatively young and a vibrant wise presence that is no more.

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My computer messed up for a while, and it was two weeks before I could fix it. As soon as I fixed it, I got the email that my grandfather had passed away. It was complicated by the fact that my mother and one of my sisters had left on a vacation cruise just before he died. They had both been taking care of him all summer and had put their lives on hold in preparation for the inevitable. It was one of those cruel coincidences that this happened right when they decided to take a small breather.

My youngest sister and I have been communicating through phone messages because of the time differences. She’s distraught and lonely, and I really wish I could be there for her.

At the same time, I’ve been putting on my game face at work.

Saturday, we handed out little notebooks and brochures to advertise the school before summer break ends. We committed this act of soliciting in an area in front of wealthy apartments. I was surprised by how many people were accepting my ads. Granted, they were in brown packing envelopes and looked mysterious, and most of my targets were under 13 years old.

The advertising project turned into a PR damage control fiasco when some of the mothers of our current students caught wind of our presence there and invited Leia and me for “tea.”

They were all upset about Roberta’s treating of them, not warning them of Anne’s departure. They also were upset about a little girl, Rochelle, at the school, who bossed and supposedly tyrannized the other kids. I personally thought that it was pathetic for these grown women to gang up on a six-year-old girl.

Leia and I did our best to talk them down. Well, Leia did all the talking. I barely understood what anyone said. I could keep track of the flow of conversation with what Korean I know (I’m at level 2 Korean now).

They all threatened to take their children out of the school Monday.

As of Monday, they were still there. But we did get a mysterious visit from Rochelle in the classroom with Leia in tow.

“Rochelle has come by to say goodbye to everyone. Joe, I’ll tell you later why she’s leaving.”

I still haven’t heard why. I’ve had no time to hear the news, but I can guess what shady politics were behind this one.

Despite all the tragedies and problems, life is getting pretty good here. Lars has really meshed in our group. He, Injoo, and I do a lot together. Friday night, we went to downtown Anyang and had shabu-shabu. Now, I had shabu-shabu only once, and it was during my first week in Korea. I was unimpressed, and it started me down the road of realizing how bland Japanese food is, no matter how sophisticated.

This shabu-shabu was Koreanized. Rather than a beef broth, we dipped the shavings of beef in a spicy red soup. After the beef was consumed, some mushrooms and veggies were dumped, and we ate the soup. By the time the soup had reduced to a bubbling sauce, it was turned into the best fried rice you’ve ever dream of tasting.

After dinner, we were introduced to a bar on the 15th floor of a building overlooking the city. It looked like one of the hyper-expensive whiskey bars, but it had reasonably priced beer, and the view was spectacular, despite a strange black light nautical theme that resembled an acid-tripped Capt’n D’s.

Sunday, I made my biggest Korean culinary score since finding cilantro in a Chinese grocery. I found boneless lamb for a decent price. Koreans hate lamb. It’s very hard to find.

This lamb is located at an Islamic grocery store in Itaewon. Being Islamic, it is Hallal lamb, which is a first for me. It’s lamb that is slaughtered and prepared in accordance with Islamic law.

Tonight I threw together an attempt at gyros with some garam masala I had bought at the store and some pita bread that had been in my freezer for maybe nine months, waiting for an occasion such as this.

This lamb was not as gamey as most lamb that I’ve had. Very subtle flavor.

We’ve had some unseasonable cool days this week. We’re in the midst of the dog days of summer. Last year, it was so hot it was unbearable for even a Southern boy like me. Right now it feels like late September. I know it’s just Mother Nature playing with our minds. But, wow, it feels good.

We’re still trying to find a date where we can all get together for our second annual dogmeat excursion (‘Dawg Day II’). It’s funny, but the longer we keep putting it off, the more people we have been attracting to this. We heard of this place that serves it in a cave near Incheon. I’d like to check that place out.

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