Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Fish Head's Progress and Other Tales

The Fish Head's Progress

Like Luka in that late-80s Suzanne Vega song, I live on the second floor. The washing machine and dryer, however, live on the fifth floor. I usually visit them weekly, gathering up my laundry and trudging upstairs; there's no elevator in my building. The staircase is lined with large windows from the second to the fifth floor, allowing me a view of the adjacent rooftops. Normally, there isn't much to see... but over the past week, I've had the chance to behold a mystery.

When walking downstairs from the fifth to the fourth floor, I have a clear view of one particular rooftop through the stairwell windows. The rooftop caught my attention last week when I noticed a glint of light coming from the center of the roof's rectangle. My eyes refocused and I saw it: a disembodied fish head, its metallic gleam a silvery contrast to the rooftop's concrete drabness. It lay there, minding its own business, looking for all the world like a spent shell casing.

How did the fish head get there? I wondered. I conjured up any number of scenarios: Someone threw it up there. A bird dropped it there. An angry Muslim slaughtered it at dawn when it refused to convert.

The head was a riddle. I examined the roof and saw that no cat could have gotten up there without Special Forces training and the proper climbing gear. There were no other alternatives: either someone tossed the head on that roof or a bird dropped it from the sky. The head's dead eye stared sightlessly at the heavens, revealing no secrets, an argent enigma.

I normally hit the laundry room once a week, but my summertime Namsan hikes have forced me to launder my sweat-soaked clothes more frequently to avoid being overwhelmed by the noisome funk of putrefied cotton. For this reason, I found myself trudging upstairs only three days after my initial fish head sighting. After dropping my laundry in the washer and starting back downstairs, I looked out the stairwell windows--

The fish head had moved.

Not only had it moved, but it had somehow managed to perch itself on the very edge of that roof, an edge that was raised.

Possibilities blossomed anew in my mind as I contemplated this marvel. Who had ever heard of a fish head that could climb? I shook my head in wonder.

I've been up and down the stairwell twice since that second sighting; the fish head still sits there on the roof's edge, apparently unaffected by the heat, looking no different than it did the first day I saw it. I've come to believe that the fish head is a sentinel, a guardian angel for that building next door. Should Seoul be attacked by North Korea, I suspect that that building-- and all its inhabitants-- would survive unscathed, protected by a benevolent, ichthyoid god.

Turtle Fusion

Most of my conversation students are putting on skits to fulfill the project requirement I incorporate in all of my classes. In my intro-level course, one group has created a clever fusion of two turtle stories: one Greek, the other Korean.

The Korean story involves a turtle who wishes to help the dying Dragon King. The king's ailment can be cured only by eating the liver of a freshly killed hare. The turtle promises to find such a hare for his king. The Greek story is one you know: the classic "tortoise and the hare."

My students have blended the two stories so that, when the turtle from the Korean story comes on land to find a hare's liver, the hare he finds challenges him to a foot race, which the hare will, of course, lose. Will the hare lose its liver? We'll soon find out. The students are performing the skit tomorrow.

Drama Queens

Today, half of my advanced-level intensive class staged a twisted version of the Hansel and Gretel story. In this version, Hansel and Gretel first eat their dying mother, then they venture into the forest to find the gingerbread house-- which they had already staked out. They eat their fill of gingerbread, then lie in wait for the witch, who notices the vandalism and screams, "What the hell is this?" The enraged witch charges into the house, pursuing Hansel and Gretel into her own lightless basement. The dark causes her to fumble and hesitate, and the ravenous children set upon her, devouring her as well. The end.

As you might imagine, I loved this skit. And just so you don't brand me a sicko, you should know that the girls came up with the idea entirely on their own.

Cinderella Revisited

"Cinderella Revisited" is the title of my drama group's feminist (or is that post-feminist?) reworking of the Cinderella story. It's a 14-page skit that will probably be about twenty minutes long once we get all the kinks worked out. Simple costumes, goofy props, even some fight choreography-- we've got it all.

I don't want to spoil this story: the ladies worked hard in developing it, and my only duty was to turn it into a skit. I'm also directing the action, but that's not hard.

If you're interested in seeing our short little play, come visit Smoo on Friday, August 25th, at 3PM. We'll probably be performing on the third floor of my building (the Social Education Building, or Sa-hwae Gyoyuk-gwan); the skit is part of our end-of-term ceremony.


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